Saturday, June 1, 2013

Golf and Writing

The Mental Game. The Game Played between the Ears. Zen Golf. All of these descriptions are a surprisingly accurate way to think about what, on the surface, seems like the most ordinary (some might say stupidly ordinary) of games. However, in my experience, nothing quite matches the game of golf for its demands on concentration, positivity, calm and internal quietude. In fact, I've come to realize some interesting parallels between what I do for fun--hit a white ball at a hole in the ground--and what I do for a living--create engaging copy that arrests readers' attention.

Both golf and writing require a positive mental framework before the work even begins. Being faced with a 30-day deadline on 30k words looks and feels a bit like this:

What's Around the Corner?
You're hitting blind into an area fraught with dangers. What if your research goes in the wrong direction? What if the words don't flow? What if other complications arise? These are all thoughts that have to be wiped from the mind. Instead, it's essential that you visualize the end goal--whether it's landing on the one safe spot on the fairway, or finishing the stellar introductory section that will set the right tone for the remainder of the work.

The swing itself, like the physical act of writing, can go one of two ways. You may have a mentally quiet space from which great swings are born, or you could have the nagging, intrusive voice telling you everything that's wrong with your technique. Bad thoughts are murder to a golf swing. In writing, I think of these thoughts as the internal editor working overtime. That's why it's so important to compartmentalize the tasks of writing and editing. First, just write; edit later. And above all, make a quiet place in your mind where the writing comes easier. I know--easier said than done.

The last comparison I want to make concerns how a golfer deals with adversity. Everyone hits bad shots now and then, just as not every sentence or paragraph written in the course of an 8-hour day is dripping with  power and significance. In the worst case scenario, a client returns a draft with a message along the lines of "No, this is not right, at all." The trick is to put every failure where it belongs, in the past. Keeping it in the front of the mind, visualizing its contours and such, is the surest way to arrange a repeat performance in the near future.

It's probably safe to say that as a writer (or anyone whose work calls for imagination), everything in life tends to orbit the creative act itself. We look for inspiration everywhere, just as we look for recreation that recharges our limited energies. For me, that recreation is golf, among other things. Absurd? Yes. Infuriating? Sometimes. Pointless? Certainly not--at least no more than life itself. But that's another subject.