On Swinging Freely


TV Commentary from a recent WTA tennis match:

Brad Gilbert: “Why do you think Player X is struggling so?”

Mary Joe Fernandez: “It’s amazing the difference when a player feels like they have everything to gain – they go out there and they’re swinging freely and they play really well. But then after winning, they have points to defend. They’re expected to win.  They change their style of play – they stop swinging big, they play defensively – it becomes about guarding their new position, and that doesn’t usually work.”

This resonated.  For a long time after my second book came out my writing was exactly that: defensive, trying to justify whatever status came with publishing two books, freaked out by pressure to plan and publish #3, and unsure what to do next. I figured it would pass.

While waiting for it to pass, I watched a lot of tennis. A procrastination move, of course.  But it helped me to see other people who did something odd for a living trying to figure out how to get back to swinging freely.

My favorite player right now is Agnieszka Radwanska. She’s ranked #4 in the world, but she’s not a power player like the other women in the top 10. Her game is about creativity: mixing things up, trying new shots, working the angles. The comment you hear most about her? She’s consistent in playing HER game…and she never panics.

How’s that for a cool life strategy?

Watching her not panic in so many matches where panic seemed not only justified but prudent has helped me. I won’t create some tortured parallel between tennis shots and writing projects, but the idea of ignoring what everyone else is doing and playing my own game, swinging freely even (especially) when it feels like the stakes are high, and not panicking – these seem like good things to bring to a writing career (and, well, life…) It feels good to be swinging freely again, taking some chances on things and knowing that there are a lot of points to play over the course of a career, and each one is different. (Okay, I tortured the parallel. Apologies!)

As I’ve worked on the new edition of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not after years away from that manuscript, I’ve been reminded how many drafts went into it. Dozens. More than a hundred, probably. There are some scenes that, when I read them, I still remember lines that used to be there, or turns of phrase that didn’t work, where my editor helped me find ones that did. And under it all, I see that writer who was working so hard, but swinging freely.

Later in the tennis match I mentioned above, they showed one player receiving a pep talk from her coach during a change over:

“Work the points one by one,” he said. “You’re in control. There’s no need to be painting the line – just get the ball over the net and aim for a big target. Keep working. Don’t worry, you’re doing great. “

Words to write by :)