Monday, February 22, 2010

Olympic Figure Skating and Writing

Like many of you, Kay and I watched last Thursday evening as Olympic figure skater Evan Lysacek turned in the performance of his life to capture the gold medal, besting favorite Yevgeny Plushenko. The turning point of the whole contest was hyped as being Plushenko's ability to do "quads"--jumps that involve four revolutions. Lysacek is apparently one of the hardest working skaters to come down the pike in a long time, but a quad isn't in his repertoire. However, he has put in countless hours of practice to make every aspect of his performance the best. Plushenko supposedly was dependent on his ability to do a jump that only a few of his competitors would even attempt.

I loved the comment of Lysacek's mother, when told that Plushenko had said no one who couldn't do a quad should win. She came back to aver that someone who could only do a quad shouldn't win.

In the end, Lysacek's hard work paid off and he stood on the center of the podium as the Star Spangled Banner played.

Is there a lesson here for writers? A couple, actually. One is that in figure skating, although there are rules and mandatory deductions for errors, the judging is, in the final analysis, subjective. In downhill skiiing, if you follow the rules, stay on your skis, and cross the finish line first, you win. Objective. Clearcut. Not so with skating. Is what happens to a writer's product objective or subjective? There are rules, but in the end there's a good bit of subjectivity in the judging. More about that in a moment.

The second lesson is that hard work and consistency in all aspects of your craft can pay dividends. Flash and something that's unique can sometimes get you there, but proficiency stands a better chance in the long run. It's been said that it takes ten thousand hours spent writing to develop the ability necessary to reach publication. There may be a few people who can short-circuit that, but by and large an apprenticeship of study and work is the best route to get there.

And once you reach that level of writing, the ultimate judgment is still subjective. Your success depends on the response of agents, editors, publishers, and eventually the reading public. Falter anywhere along the way, and you never reach the Olympics--that is, having your work published. On the other hand, if you never try, you have no chance at all.


Myra Johnson said...

Evan's Olympic win brought many of these same thoughts to my mind. I admired his commitment to daily practice, even when other Olympic skaters were cutting back in the days leading up to the competition. And I totally agree with his mom's remark about the quad! Soooo glad he edged out Plushenko and won the gold!

Carol J. Garvin said...

Great analogy here, Richard. The new skating rules award specific marks to the various elements, but as you've said, evaluating the performance aspect is very subjective. Something sensational may attract initial attention, whether in figure skating or writing, but unless it's well presented it won't take the person far in the long run. (I was disappointed Patrick Chan didn't do better, but he's another one who doesn't believe a quad is essential. Evan did a lovely job and deserved the gold.)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Great observations, Richard. I especially liked the quote from Evan's mother. :)

I stayed up late to watch this event. Evan also studied the scoring system and maximized every opportunity. In the end, he racked up enough points to beat his competition.


Keli Gwyn said...

Richard, I've heard writers need to get the first one million not-so-hot words out of their systems, but this is the first time I heard the 10,000 hours theory. I've been a writing four years, having logged over 10,000 hours so far, and have produced my million words of tripe, so maybe I'm getting close. I can hope :)

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Excellent point, Richard. I'm pleased that judges sometimes recognize overall quality as superior to sensational moments. I've read plenty of sensational opening scenes--it's the overall unity and pace of the novel that is harder to master.