In 1999, several factors conspired that caused me to walk away from writing for a very long time: My first novel was accepted for publication, my darling daughter was born, and the publishing industry imploded. Combining the demands of new motherhood with a diminishing ability to sell books and zero support from my publisher – who was recently acquired by a big five-house publishing company – left a bad taste in my mouth about the whole writing business. So I walked away. I started homeschooling my daughter. I taught classes about writing instead of writing.
When my daughter decided she wanted to be an archer in the Olympics or a Renaissance fair, I did what any homeschool mother worth her salt would do; I bought her a bow and took her to the local archery shop, X-Ring, to get some arrows. When the owner, Jon Bach, said with a sly grin, “You know mom, women are better than men at archery,” he had my attention. Soon I found myself signed up for lessons and hooked on archery the way I once had been on writing.
Little did I know that archery would teach me so many valuable lessons that would lead me back to writing, as well!
So What if It’s Christmas
To say I was hooked on archery was an understatement. Just as I used to dream of getting a short story in the New Yorker, I not only wanted to shoot archery, I wanted to make the Olympic team. But instead of just dreaming about it, I trained for it. Archery taught me that to excel you need to work – every day. It didn’t matter if it was Christmas, your birthday, or you were tired. I would find myself shooting at midnight if I didn’t have the time during the day. I shot the morning of my wedding! When the writing bug hit me again, and I started working on “Triple Love Score,” I knew I needed to apply this same discipline. I set myself a target of 500 words a day and wrote every day, whether I felt like it or not. Writing couldn’t be precious; it just needed to be done.
You Need a Team
Archery, even though it is a solo sport in most cases, benefits from a team approach. I found such a supportive community from coaches to other archers. Asking for advice, seeking out examples of other archers in person or online, attending seminars, and sharing knowledge I gained in return became the cornerstones of my development as an archer. Without my tribe of archers, this sport would be (darn) lonely and extremely challenging; it is difficult to learn everything on your own! Writing is no different. This time around I found myself seeking out other writers. I friended them on Facebook. I attend conferences like the Key West Writing Seminar and the Yale Summer Writing Conference. Most importantly, I joined the Tall Poppy Writers, a collective of women fiction authors who pledge to support each other through marketing and the sharing of resources and advice. Without archery, I never would have learned the value of forging so many connections. An archery coach I am fond of, Jim White, teaches that relationships determine results. I can’t thank him enough for sharing this key insight with me.
Thoughts are Things
My personal coach and biggest cheerleader, Len Cardinale, teaches the powerful mantra, “thoughts are things.” If you step up to the shooting line and think, “I will never hit this target,” guess what? You just sabotaged your chances. The same thing is true as you face a writing project. If you look at every pitch or query and say, “they’ll never like this,” you are just setting yourself up for failure. In both writing and shooting, I try to keep a positive focus; after all, in both games, my thoughts are just about the only things I can control!
Sometimes You’ve Got to Put it Down
Learning when to walk away or when to start over is one of the hardest lessons I’ve faced as an archer. When an injury sidelined me, I struggled for months still trying to shoot despite the pain and frustration. Likewise, we sometimes find ourselves writing a project that isn’t a good fit or that isn’t working. Even though we may be 20,000 words in, it may be that the project needs a break or to be scrapped altogether. Sometimes stepping away and coming back with fresh eyes enables us to see things in new ways, but stepping away can be extremely difficult. After I stopped shooting and took a break, I came back and tried compound archery instead of Olympic style. While I was afraid to try something new, the same way we are afraid to start a new writing project, I soon found myself enthralled with beginners joy. Soon after that, I was able to apply all the things I learned as an Olympic archer to this new discipline. As with writing, each piece of writing we do, whether it ever hits the shelves, the pages of a magazine, or someone else’s computer screen, teaches us something about writing that can help us to move on and try something new.
I have a novel I finished before “Triple Love Score,” called “Tarnished.” This is a project I let go in order to start something new. I don’t know if I’ll return to it, but I know that I made the right decision moving forward instead of clinging to something that wasn’t able to find a publishing home. Sometimes in an archery tournament, you find yourself unable to get the shot to fire. You just stand there like a statue; that was me with “Tarnished.” It can be really hard to let the arrow down and start over again, but what result can you expect to have from something that is stuck and breaking down? It is better to start again. Don’t be afraid to let down and recompose yourself. It isn’t failing to do that – it’s learning.
What’s Your Bow and Arrow?
While I don’t think all of you are going to rush out and try archery as a way of making your writing better (though I really recommend it), I do recommend looking at the other things in your life that you enjoy or are successful at. How did that happen? How can you build those elements into your writing practice to get where you want to go as a writer? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
About the author
Brandi Granett is a published author, writing coach and competitive archer. Visit her website at http://www.brandigranett.com.