Thursday, 23 February 2012

Top 10 Writing Tips from Top Tennis Players

Well, kinda. These were gleaned from watching tennis rather than asking tennis players for writing tips!

1. Consistency and endurance are key.

To be ranked in the ATP or WTA top ten, you need to win a lot of matches. Winning the odd title and exiting in the first round of most competitions isn't good enough. To write well and have a long, successful career you need to write a lot. Don't write one great novel/story and quit: keep writing as you're entering competitions and querying agents. Aim to do your best in everything you write. It's an obvious point, but it's easy to get complacent when you have some success or to lose motivation when success doesn't come. Keep going.

2. Chase down every shot.

Andy Murray fans will be familiar with his shouts of 'chase it down!' when he's not playing his best. They will also be familiar with his spectacular returns when he does chase down shots that seem impossible. You may avoid submitting work to some competitions/journals/whatever because you think there's no chance of success, but you're wrong: as long as you submit, the chance is higher than zero. So what if you miss? The day may come when you make a spectacular return.

3. Make your own luck.

Part of making your own luck is chasing down every shot, but it also involves taking responsibility. Complaining about your lack of success isn't productive - if you need to vent, fair enough, but there's no point in constantly whining about the unfairness of the publishing industry. Did Novak Djokovic waste time moaning about how Federer and Nadal are blessed with talent? I've no idea. But I know he worked damn hard to become world number 1 and achieved it. Are you doing everything you can to ensure success? If not, stop wasting your precious time complaining and get to work! If you said yes, stop lying!

4. Act professional.

Apart from possessing awesome tennis skills, what do Nadal, Djokovic and Federer (for the most part) have in common? They act professional on and off court. Nadal, in particular, does not smash tennis racquets and is very gracious about his opponents. So are most of the top 20 players - regardless of whether they're winning or losing. It's hard to remain cool and gracious when things are stacked against you, but it's essential. Don't slag off other writers/editors/agents; don't take rejection personally or begrudge others their success. It's a massive waste of time and could damage your future prospects.

5. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

All professional tennis players train hard, for years. They receive coaching/advice to improve their cardio fitness, strength and flexibility, adjust their diet, practice techniques and tactics... You get the idea. Writers can do the same: take courses, get critiques, do writing exercises, read good stories, listen to what successful writers advise...

6. Keep match-fit.

Don't let your form slump when you're not actively submitting work and make sure your preparation results in working to the best of your ability. Edit your work thoroughly, even if you plan to leave it a while before doing anything with it, so it's polished and ready to go. It will probably  still need a quick read and some adjustments, but no major changes. If an unexpected opportunity arises, your work is ready to wield the racquet!

7. Know your opponent(s).

Okay, so you won't be facing another writer on the court. But you should still know their strengths and weaknesses - and learn from them. How can you improve your work? Do you offer something different to other writers in your genre? Can you copy their tactics to create publicity and sells? Imagine a reader in a bookshop with just a ten pound note to spend. What can you do to make them buy your book?

8. Change tactics when needed.

If things aren't going as expected, you need to think about the new situation and change your behaviour. Some tennis players are fantastic at doing this, switching to a more defensive/agressive game plan and changing rhythm with ease. Some are terrible at changing their tactics and continue playing the same when it's not working. Even top players can find themselves panicking as their game falls to pieces. Many veer between the two. Don't let this happen: devise new strategies. These could be minor, such as writing at a different time of day or in a different place. Or they could be drastic: trying a different genre, investing in a professional critique before submitting work, taking a course...

9. Don't give up.

Plenty of tennis players rise in the rankings against expections. Some enjoy their best rankings in their late 20s/early 30s, which is considered the twilight of a tennis player's career. Most writers find success only after years of struggle. Many writers hailed as an 'overnight success' have several novels published before one gets critical acclaim or popular attention. We know this, but it's easy to forget. So keep going - if you stop, you'll never know if success was just around the corner.

10. Have fun!

Tennis and writing both involve years of hard work. There are always difficult times when it's a struggle to keep going, but on balance, you should love what you do. I love writing and I've enjoyed many experiences that writing (directly or indirectly) has brought about. I hope this continues as my career progresses, regardless of my success - or lack of it!

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