Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Play Your Game

I don't usually watch the PGA.

When I was growing up, the golf tournaments were always my father's purview. I'd get to watch cartoons in the morning, and then the TV would be commandeered for these four-hour marathon events of golf tournaments. So when I was home this weekend, I was none too surprised to find that while I was writing and fixing viruses on my parents' computer, the Master's was on.

But this time, I picked it up on about round three, when Phil Mickelson had an unbelievable afternoon that put him squarely in the lead. So I was pulling for him to have a fourth green jacket, because although I don't follow the PGA, I do know who Phil Mickelson is. But in round four, this other guy I'd never heard of came to the fore, going from fifth, to fourth, to third, to second...and finally winning on the second hole of sudden-death shootout.

His name is Bubba Watson.

And he's never had a golf lesson in his life.

Dad has a DVR, so even though we missed most of round four thanks to Easter dinner, we went back and watched all the coverage of Bubba. And again and again, we heard the announcers say the same things--"Well, he's not going to do that." "It would be unusual if this works." "He's got such an unorthodox way of doing this." "I'm really surprised he's taking out that club."

And time and time again, out came perfect, beautiful shots.

Bubba doesn't play golf the way the PGA plays golf. And not merely because he's a leftie. No one has trained his swing. He gets clubhead speed from somewhere--no one is exactly sure where. He can hit a club with a range hundreds of yards larger than the other men on the tour. If he needs to make it a short shot, he might well pick out a long iron and just swing it in a way that goes the distance he wants.

It's not the way you're "supposed" to play golf. But it's a way that just won the Master's.

So it got me thinking about writing. We talk about the "dos" and the "don'ts" often. And it's true that there are always going to be the ways to write that generally are going to work. Choose specific verbs rather than adding adverbs. Evoke the senses. Vary your sentence structure. And of course they go beyond the prose to all sorts of other "rules:" Write YA in first person. Keep your word count to a particular level. Structure your query this way. This genre is in. That genre is out. If you have a series, write only the first book. It goes on and on.

And none of that's bad advice, and frankly, I adhere to most of those rules myself. Let's face it, golf lessons and perfected, identical swings have won a lot of Master's tournaments. But Bubba gave me a big reminder--that ultimately, the game that matters most is my own. How do *I* write? What is the story I tell, and how do I tell it? If a dystopian idea strikes me as the story to tell, why let market concerns bleed into my thinking at the outline stage?

In other words, if I can get a ridiculous distance out of a literary seven-iron, why not use it?

The best golf, like the best writing,  comes from someone whose mind is aligned with his game, and who knows how to use the tools at his disposal. Maybe he doesn't always use them in the most prescribed, orthodox manner, but he uses them well. And yes, there are ways that generally work to do it--but in the end, the game is intensely our own.


  1. I loved this post. It reminds me a lot of how I've evolved as a teacher as well. I used to be much more prescriptive with public speaking, for example. But now my greatest message to students to is to be the most authentic "you".

  2. Absolutely. I keep having to remind myself of that, the more I end up mired in this whole thing of markets and comp titles and whatnot. There's a "me," and me works pretty well.


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