Okay, I have to admit it. I’m hooked on figure skating. I watch the nationals and all the grand prix events like Skate Russia, America, China. I can’t wait for the Vancouver Olympics. And I look forward to the day I can watch the Stars on Ice live, in person, front row. That is, when I’ve made a million dollars (I can dream, can’t I?).
My favorite skaters are the most artistic, usually the professionals: Kristi Yamaguchi, Scot Hamilton, and my all time favorite pair, Ekaterina Godeeva and Sergei Grinkov. When Sergei died, I cried. When Ekaterina remarried, I rejoiced.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned from the skating world:
1. Amateur skaters have to work exceptionally hard. Amateurs are the ones who have to adhere to the rules or fail. In the short program, the focus is on technique. There are specific requirements: so many jumps, a combination triple jump, straight line sequence, spiral and spins. Even in the long program whose focus is artistic, there are specific requirements and these tend to make skaters tense.
In much the same way, beginning writers face many “do’s.” Agents and editors issue edicts from how to write a query, how to avoid “be” verbs, passive, semi-colons, etc. etc. Although invaluable, these rules can hinder creativity, much like how they affect amateur skaters.
2. Amateurs don’t get paid–unless they live in Russia, in which case the state gives them just enough to live on. The only way amateurs make decent money is to medal and get endorsements.
Writers too have to polish their craft, working with peers and editors until the manuscript reads like a bestseller. It’s the only way to stand above the crowd and receive some financial compensation.
3. Amateur skaters have to take the chance on inventing new moves, like the Bielman’s spin where she reaches behind and pulls one leg while spinning on the other, or the tunnel jump invented by Brian Boitano, raising one arm. In the same way, writers have to take chances and set trends. For instance, agent after agent told me they weren’t sure my memoir would take because no middle-class African woman had written a cross-cultural memoir involving immigration. Fortunately, the incomparable agent Bill Contardi saw differently.
I’m sure the first vampire novel suffered rejection until someone decided he/she liked one. Now there’s a glut. Same with teens who possess superpowers. Today it’s almost impossible to find average young adults who aren’t zapping whole universes just by pointing. If you have an idea that’s untried, don’t be afraid to go for it. Set a trend rather than follow others.
4. Professional skaters have programs that are far more innovative and fun. Once skaters make the switch from amateurs to professionals, their skating takes on new artistic heights. They are simply breath-taking, especially when they’re just doing shows. Ekaterina Godeeva barely does any jumps, but God, can she mesmerize! A man only has to watch her skating with Iliak to fall in love with her. I still gasp when a male skater does flips.
Similarly, a writer who has achieved publication discovers the freedom to create and explore, the confidence to express one’s true voice. While many of us are amateurs, we can still write with passion and abandon. Within reason. Rules help us to develop our skills.
Ultimately, we must listen to the voice within,
the ‘thing’ that’s uniquely us.