Wednesday, 11 February 2015

How Writing is like Tennis

I was watching Andy Murray play in the final of Australian Open last weekend and part way through, I found myself thinking about something else. Writing, in fact. I was thinking how transferable some of the skills are! Not physically, of course – but mentally.

Image: Daily Mail
As writers, we can’t afford to let our minds wander off into the bigger picture - the 'outside world' - too often. If you're waiting for an agent to give first-views on a new manuscript or you have a book out on submission, it’s easy to feel panicky; checking emails, worrying, wondering, hoping. If you focus on the waiting, the ‘not knowing’ and ‘what ifs’ – then your day can be ruined, given over to anxiety. Just as in a game of tennis, if a player starts to think, ‘Oh, no - what if I lose this match – how is it going to affect me and my career?’ or the opposite, ‘Wow - what if I win it – how amazing would that be?!’ In doing so, his eye is tugged away from the job in hand and the ball goes into the net.

At the start of a match, like at the start of a book, we can never be sure if we're going to be a winner or a loser. Will this book hit the spot and get an agent/a book deal/race up the sales rankings? Will this be the one time, since 2004, when Sharapova beats Serena Williams? As a writer, the best thing we can do is focus on the here and now. ‘What am I working on today? - like the player handling each individual ball that comes over the net is unconsciously processing, ‘how will I hit this one?’ The rule – eye on the ball and just win this point – don’t worry about the next one, or fret about the one you’ve just sent wide. Just as the player focuses on a backhand, a rally, a game, we need to focus on the small detail growing outwards: words, sentences, scenes. The player can’t afford to leap ahead or think too far afield and nor can the writer.

As it happens, Andy lost that final – he has to pick himself up from rejection, work on his game and move on to the next match. A writer must do the same, as Harper Lee said:

Right now, I'm handing the towel back to the ball-girl and bouncing the ball on the baseline - ready for that Ace!

Any thoughts?
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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