On pickleball and mastering a new skill (like writing fiction)
The first time I tried pickleball I felt like a prize fool. I was playing doubles with my husband and a girlfriend and her husband. Her husband is one of those people who's naturally gifted at nearly all sports. He loves to teach and coach, but he's also the kind of guy who sometimes slightly underestimates my athletic ability. So heading onto the court with him, I wanted to show him that I'm a quick learner and can be a decent competitor.
The problem was, I had only played tennis, and kept trying to whack the whiffle ball with this much smaller, lace-free racket the same way I would a tennis ball. I hit too high. I hit too hard. I whiffed more times than I could count.
I was terrible.
Luckily, my friend's husband loves to teach and coach, so he was thrilled to give tips, help me understand the rules of the game, and show his wife and me some things to avoid.
So I kept trying.
Flash forward to a few months later. For the last few weeks, I have been meeting up with my friend to play a little 1:1. She and I are at about the same level, and we have been having a great time practicing, exponentially improving our skill level and game understanding.
We are both still a long way from playing in tournaments, or even defeating her very competitive huband, but week by week, we show up, practice, and grow. And we laugh and
cheer each other on.
When you look at your skill set as a writer, where are you? Are you in the blind-confidence haze that accompanies the desire to write a book, though you have no clue where to begin? Are you in the crush of despair that comes with trying and realizing it's harder than you thought it would be? Are you gaining confidence as you practice? Or are you an expert with skill but need something to keep pushing you to improve?
No matter where you are in your writing journey, there's something to learn...a way to master the steep learning curve that comes with learning any new skill.
It starts with learning the foundational building blocks.
A few weeks ago, I was listening to a speaker who reminded me that there's an order to the sequence of things we learn. There has to be. It's the reason we don't run before we can walk. Our skills have to build one upon the next.
My daughter is in kindergarten, so she's learning the alphabet, phonics, the numbers, and basic addition and subtraction. These building blocks will serve as the foundation for all of her learning for the rest of her life. If she doesn't master the alphabet, how can she read? If she doesn't know her numbers, how will she build up to algebra in high school?
The lyrics of "Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music pop into my head here, and for good reason. Because without mastering the building blocks of whatever skill you're learning, you will just never get to the point in which you can master something.
"When you read you begin with A, B, C. When you sing you begin with Do Re Mi."
And when you write, there are certain basic skills you have to learn-- pertaining to both prose and story--in order to get to the point of mastery.
How do you learn these skills? Well, by doing your homework. Research online blogs. Read craft books (find some of my favorites here) . Or taking a course, listening to podcasts, or hiring a book coach. Study other beloved books to see how the author accomplished what they did.
The second step in smoothing your writing learning curve is to practice.
I am far from the only person to ever give this advice. That's because it's true. As with pickleball, how can I expect to get better unless I get on the court and try? Hitting those balls (or not), practicing that serve, and challenging myself is the only way I will ever improve.
You learn the skills and then you practice them. It's that simple. Learn how to write a scene. Learn how to flesh out a character. Practice making your dialogue sound authentic. Practice infusing setting and backstory into your manuscripts organically.
The third way to tackle that writing learning curve is to phone a friend. Or rather find yourself a great writing partner.
As I mentioned before, my friend and I are at the same skill level of pickleball. Neither of us is holding the other back, and we are both challenging each other to the point of growth. If
the skill balance weren't equal, one of us might grow stagnant.
The same is true with finding writing buddies. A community. That way you have someone to bounce ideas off of, cheer you on, challenge your writing, point out (gently) what you need to work on, all in a safe, supported space.
There is one caveat to this. At some point, after mastering the foundations, practicing, learning and growing with a partner, you might plateau. What then? Well, then you might consider seeking extra help.
If I were to decide that I wanted to participate in pickleball tournaments, I would need to test myself against an expert. Or enroll in some lessons. Hire a coach. Get in a clinic to really push my skill set further.
I am a literary agent, a book coach, and a writer with an MFA...and I still ask for help with my own writing. On more than one occassion I have reached out to fellow book coaches, and editors to ask for help. And each time I have, I'm amazed at how much they help me see what I couldn't even with my trained eyes. That's the thing...we all have blind spots in our own writing, no matter how much of an expert we are.
So on the path to mastery, consider getting professional help to skyrocket your performance. I know I will with writing...and perhaps pickleball someday.