Tuesday, 1 July 2014

7 Ways Tennis can help Writers

Image courtesy of ponsuwan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As Andy Murray sailed into week two at Wimbledon (mustn’t count our chickens), I thought about what tennis can teach writers. Most arts and sports can teach us something, so here is my run down:

1. Team work:
You see one player on court, but each one has a crew behind them in the wings who train them, psyche them up and pull them into shape mentally and physically for those grand slam matches.  

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who do you need in your team? Some writers need someone to push them; I often see writers on Twitter ask for a ‘writing buddy’ for the day – like a tennis partner – someone to go the rounds with them to reach 500 or 1,000 words and check in with them later. It keeps them at their desk when there are temptations to wander, knowing someone else is ‘over the other side of the (Inter)net’. Other writers need a person who will shout ‘Vamos!’ from the stands so we’ll hear it - a strong supporter who picks us up when we get bad news, rejections or poor reviews. Most writers need impartial readers (literary physios), who check everything is functioning properly - who can check our work for plot holes, inconsistencies, drops in tension, flaky characters etc.

A 'tennis-player must' seems to be a sports psychologist. As experts are always telling us, the sport is essentially a ‘mind-game’. Talented writer Elizabeth Haynes (Into the Darkest Corner – Amazon UK best book of 2011) recently admitted she had therapy to cope with a severe dose of author envy. You can read her frank and revealing article here.

Andy has a team of at least six behind him; his coach, two fitness trainers, a hitting partner, a physio, and a PR agent. Each one has an equivalent for a writer.

2. Practice:
You wouldn’t expect to pick up a racket and stride straight out onto the centre court, so why expect to pick up a pen and walk into the UK Kindle Charts? There’s a lot of competition out there and we need to work at it. I’ve learn that being a good writer isn’t enough. There are masses of excellent writers out there – to create a psychological thriller that will turn heads, you ALSO have to get an original, commercial premise, a power-packed storyline, dynamic characters who jump off the page, page-turning jeopardy, the right pace and a great twist at the end. It takes a lot of skill to get that right and there are going to be a lot of attempts that fall into the net…

3. Resilience and Tenacity:
Raphael Nadal has been losing his first sets in matches at Wimbledon this year, but does he give up? No way! During a press conference in 2006, Roger Federer explained the one major thing which turned his career around after those early years when he regularly lost to the top players such as Lleyton Hewitt. His secret sounds so simple yet it made all the difference to his career. Federer said he learnt not to panic on the court when he was down or under pressure - and that rather than giving up, he now "hangs in there and hopes for the best whenever things are down". Federer attributes his success to this one simple decision, and said it has been the best choice that he has ever made in tennis. He resolves to "keep playing and see what happens", just in case his opponent gets nervous or something dramatic should happen that could change the match.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
4. Hawk-Eye 1:
Hawk-eye was brought in because humans are fallible and they sometimes call ‘out’ when the ball is really ‘in’. Writing is subjective, which means one agent/publisher may say ‘Out’ while the next says ‘In’. People get it wrong. People have different opinions – just take a look at the variety of reviews for the same book on Amazon. A friend of mine (who happens to be a film director in Hollywood - long story!) used to work in a London theatre, selecting plays from the slush pile. She told me there were times when she'd be feeling slightly off-colour or tired and the next manuscript in the pile would get short shrift as a result.

5. Hawk-Eye 2:
This also applies to checking work – agents don’t seem to mind the odd spello here and there, but a manuscript riddled with faulty spelling, grammar, punctuation, wonky formatting isn’t going to endear them to us.

6. Don’t dwell:
Move on after bad news. Commentators are always criticising players for reliving a dreadful line-call or a point where they messed up. Writers need to stay in the moment and make what we’re working on right now the best we can do.

7. Take risks:
Think outside the box. It’s nearly always that daring volley from Federer or that lunging drop-shot from Djokovic that wins the point. It’s a risk – it’s always safer to stay at the base-line and keep swinging the ball back and forth, but we need to stick your neck out if we’re going to stun our opponent (audience/agent/publisher).

Now - anyone for Pimm's?
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train. Both books hit the Number One spot in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.