Skating outdoors in Vermont brought back favorite childhood memories of building a backyard ice rink with my father. Our city yard was tiny, and our rink was about six swizzle pumps wide and only a little bit longer. Bumpy at best and treacherous at worst, it was ice. That my father cared enough to help me with this time-consuming and, in fickle west Michigan weather, often futile effort, gave me the seed of the idea that skating was something I could do. It's the same for writing. Even one frozen drop of water can be enough if you really want it. For me, this was when I dared to show my mother, a writer and librarian, the beginning ramblings of my first book. She had lots of advice and areas to improve but, “Sure, this could be a novel,” were the words I took with me as my droplet of hope.
However small your start, you must put in the time. It's about repetition. With good daily practice routines, the elements on ice come. With good daily writing routines, the words flow. Listen to your coaches, aka your trusted critique group, because whether you like it or not, they're right most of the time. Accept criticisms with a “thank you” and give yourself time to reflect on them. Use whatever advice you can to make your writing stronger, but know that sometimes you have to follow your heart. I once completely changed programs three weeks before a competition, much to the chagrin of my coach. That new program won me a national gold medal. So go ahead, re-write that novel in first person. Cut those scenes. Start over with a blank page. And take comfort in the fact that least in writing you can save all your old versions on the computer and pull out an old routine with the click of your mouse.
On the ice or on the page, you will fall down. A lot. All you can do is pick yourself up, the sooner the better. You must try again. It took me almost five years to learn a lutz. I'm still working on that Axel and I won't even tell you how many hours I've worked at writing but I try to remember that everyone is afraid sometimes, that everyone struggles with some things.
Take advantage of camps, clinics, and retreats. Fresh opinions can help you get over a rut. I had been struggling with a loop jump for months when I attended a skating camp in Aspen. New phrasing and the trick of jumping out of a backspin helped me master the element that week. Likewise, I am forever indebted to the help and encouragement I've received from my fellow SCBWI members.
Just like skating, writing is also about acting. To make your characters real to your audience, you need to feel them, get inside their heads. Wear your heart on your sleeve and keep a box of tissues nearby for the tears and runny noses. Because in skating, you only need to do one character per program but in writing you're going to need to do them all.
And finally, sweat the small stuff. Yes, pay attention to details in your routines and in your novels but don't forget about life outside the rink and off the page. I used to have one of those t-shirts proclaiming that “figure skating is life, the rest is just details!” I gave it to Goodwill. Skating, writing, whatever your passions – life is in the details, and not the sequin-covered, rhinestone-studded variety.