kellyrfineman (kellyrfineman) wrote,

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Planning, practice, strategy, execution

As you already know, I'm a huge fan of the Winter Olympics. In so many of the sports, four of the key ideas in play are planning, practice, strategy, and execution. Everyone from ice skaters to skiers to bobsled teams to curlers plan their routines or courses ahead of time. They train and practice their skills with full runs and the breaking down of things into component parts. They strategize, assessing field conditions, equipment, tapes of their own runs, games or routines; tapes of the competition (at least sometimes). They set out to execute their plan - to take the proper track while skiing; to score the most goals (and defend their own goal) in hockey; to complete all the required components in sports like freestyle skiing, snowboarding and figure skating.

This isn't so different from writing, is it? Writers - even those who consider themselves "pantsers," or people who fly by the seats of their pants - plan at least a bit what they're up to. Sometimes this involves prewriting, character sketches, and outlines. Sometimes it's something smaller - a determination to write a picture book, say, rather than a four-volume novel; a decision to write in verse, or to use only monosyllables, or without the letter "o", or whatever.

Writers train (by reading and writing and perhaps going to conferences) and practice (hello? who among us doesn't have at least one thing that's been consigned to the drawer - or the bin - the writing of which is a form of training or practice, just as any completed piece of work (whether it has sold or not) is also a form of practice. Heck, even your blog-writing might be a form of practice or training. What I'm saying is, writers practice by writing - a tautology, but there it is.

Writers also strategize. They too assess their equipment, be it paper and pens - and if you use these media, chances are good that you have particular papers and pens or pencils that you prefer - or computers (and computer programs). They look over their "tapes" in the form of work product, going over and over the same course (or piece of writing) many times, in a process known as revision. They also tend to do market research, whether they call it that or not - assessing what similar books are in the market, whether the market can bear another book just now that features boy wizards or sparkly vampires or what have you, etc.

Writers then try to execute their plan by writing the best darn novel or picture book or poem or easy reader that they possibly can. They try to turn phrases well, to develop characters as fully as possible (or necessary), to write a story that positively sings a siren song to its intended readers.

And the interesting thing in the case of both sports and writing is that sometimes, plans and practice and strategy go awry during the execution phase. In sports, maybe another short-track skater blocks the line you'd intended to take, or the opposing team of curlers manages what you thought was an impossible shot, or the conditions on a hill deteriorate, or your skatelace breaks in the middle of your routine and you have to stop the music to fix it or make some toher last-minute adjustments. The folks that excel at this often find themselves wearing medals - sometimes gold, sometimes silver or bronze.

The same sort of things happens with writing. "The best-laid plans of mice and men do often gang agley," as Burns said. Maybe a character who was supposed to serve a bit part turns out to be so much bigger, louder, or more important than anticipated; maybe your picture book idea isn't suitable for a chapter book and needs to be a novel (I know of at least two published authors for whom this has been the case). Maybe that subplot that you were so pleased about when you planned it out simply can't stay after all; writers grow used to "killing their darlings" over time.

And sometimes, after all that planning and practice and strategy and execution, the crowd stands and sings "O Canada" unprompted when the Canadian men's team starts the 10th end of a key match with Great Britain. And sometimes you get great comments from a critique partner or an editor, or a book contract, or an award, even. But all of it - all of it - starts with planning, practice, strategy and execution.

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Tags: essays, fineman, olympics, writing

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