It’s a crazy analogy, but after reading this it may make sense.
I know this may sound strange (it is me we’re talking about here — I exemplify strange) but how I think about things in the morning is a lot like playing toss and fetch with a dog.
My brain will bring me a thought then wait impatiently for me to toss it out so it can chase it down and bring it back. The more I toss out the thought, the more my brain focuses on it and brings it back to me. Soon enough, the thought becomes an idea, and the idea becomes a story.
Yeah, it’s like that. Weird huh?
So, you’ll never guess what my brain dragged in this morning.
Why writing is like sports.
For the purposes of this exercise I chose golfing. I used to (a hundred years ago) golf and though I never was very good, using golf seems to work for me. You can just about plug any sport in and the analogy will work.
Except for maybe cheese rolling, or extreme ironing.
Come on, think about it for a sec. There are several aspects of golf which typify a writer. With golf, there’s the technical aspect of addressing the ball, the foot placement, the stance, the swing and the concentration. Then there’s the long game and the short game. One competence without the other two will likely produce a handicap golfer. Possessing two of the three competencies may create a scratch golfer.
It’s when the golfer is competent at all three the magic happens.
So let’s break each comparison down so you’ll see what I talking about.
The technical aspect
Just like golf there’s a technical aspect in writing you need to learn. With a golfer it takes years of practice to perfect the technical pieces of concentrating on the ball, the swing, movement of the hips and legs and the follow through.
In writing it also takes years of practice to form a tone and voice to your writing, a unique style and language structure which works well for you and is what the reader wants to read.
Both golf and writing take years to master and require lots of practice. A whole lot of practice. For a golfer to become good at the game they have to go to the range and hit the links on a daily basis. The same goes for a writer.
Well, not the range and links part but certainly the writing part.
A writer has to work just as hard to form that picture perfect style, tone and voice which appeals to a reader.
And they can only do it by writing.
The long game
For a golfer the long game is all about power and accuracy. The intent is to get the ball off the tee and as close to the green with as few shots as possible. The long game usually consists of that first critical shot off the tee. Everything depends on the opening drive. If the golfer hooks into the rough or slices into a stand of trees the next few shots could get very dicey.
Guess what? The same thing applies to a writer’s opening line, paragraph or first chapter.
It must be powerful, and it needs to be dead eye, spot on accurate.
A writer may not get another chance to capture the reader.
So it stands to reason the first line or paragraph and certainly the first chapter must grip the reader and draw them in.
If a writer slices into a stand of trees, the reader is going to get lost trying to figure out how in the hell the story is ever going to get any better. Or if the writer hooks the story into the rough, the reader may spend several frustrating minutes trying to find the ball (your story) and then just give up.
No matter how technically adept a golfer or writer is, if they can’t master the long game they’ll never achieve the level of accomplishment they’re looking for.
The short game
And such it is with the short game, the third competency a golfer and a writer must master. In golf, the short game consists of the approach shot, pitching and chipping, and of course, the putt.
Assuming the golfer has done a masterful job with the long game, the ball is now within striking range of the green. The approach shot, if done well puts the ball as close to the cup as possible.
Sometimes, a golfer will need just a short pitch or chip shot to get the ball on the green and close to the cup.
And then comes the putt.
If the golfer has been practicing a hell of a lot they should be able to sink the putt. If not, well, you know what happens.
For a writer, the short game is just as important. The cup on the green is the climax of the story. How a writer approaches that climax is critical. Even if a writer’s long game is both powerful and accurate and the reader has stuck it out the entire way, if the writer can’t get the story to the green and in the cup they will lose the reader.
The approach shot for a writer sets the stage for the end of the story, the final putt into the cup. A writer may be just a few yards away from the climax and all it takes is chip to the green. Or the writer may be several hundred yards away and it requires a masterful shot, but either way a writer needs to get to the green.
Once on the green, a writer needs to end the story in a manner which provides the reader the same satisfaction a golfer gets when they sink a putt to win. As a writer, the ultimate goal is to have our reader pore over the final paragraph and sigh with pleasure or satisfaction (or groan with anger) when they finish.
But remember, even though we’ve made it to the green, nothing counts if we can’t sink the putt. As ironic as it is, the way a writer ends the story is just as important as how they begin it.
As a writer, we need to sink the putt.
So practice and learn to master the long game in your writing. Continue to write your approach shots and chips to the greens of your stories. Keep track on how many words you use to get to each green and sink the putt. Like a golf score, a writer must learn to make the biggest impact with the fewest words.
Who knows, if you practice hard enough maybe the next time we’ll meet will be at a book signing for your New York Times bestseller.
Just don’t schedule it during the Masters. I don’t do well with stressful decisions.
Let’s keep in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org