Monday, May 11, 2009

Learn to Bowl, Learn to Shop, Learn to Write

A Sunday musing from Earl Staggs

Once upon a time, my wife decided to join a bowling league. She also decided I should join. I told her I had no interest in bowling and there was nothing she could do or say to make me change my mind.

She gave me logical reasons why I should bowl with her. I could get some exercise, she explained, I could meet some new people, and I could continue to sleep under the same roof with her.

We joined a bowling league the following week.

I was a terrible bowler and by the fifth frame of the first game, everyone in the establishment knew it. Now, bowlers as a whole are friendly people, always willing to help. After that first game, a good bowler named Randy from the opposing team approached me and said, “Let me show you what you’re doing wrong.”

Randy showed me how to stand with my legs straight, my back bent, my feet parallel and close together, and to hold the ball tight against my right hip. I listened, of course. Randy had an average of 255.

For the rest of the game, I bowled exactly as Randy said, but I wasn’t comfortable and did as badly as before.

The following week, I was approached by Jim, a bowler with a 240 average. “Let me show you what you’re doing wrong,” he offered in a friendly and generous manner.

Jim demonstrated how I should stand with my knees bent, my back straight, my right foot in front of my left, and to hold the ball up to my chest in both hands. Completely different from Randy’s advice.

That prompted me to scrutinize a few other good bowlers in the league. Amazingly, no two of them bowled exactly the same way, yet each had a high average. Each had a style of his own.

So I did the same. I borrowed a little of Randy’s technique, a bit of Jim’s, and bits and pieces from a few others to develop my own style. I’m proud to say I eventually became a slightly better than mediocre bowler.

Years later, when I started to write, I found several “How to” books written by successful writers. While some basic fundamentals were the same, the specifics weren’t. “Start with an outline,” one said. “Don’t outline,” said another. “Always have three suspects,” one gave as a must. “Never open with the weather,” proclaimed one bestselling author. No two of them gave exactly the same advice.

What was a beginning writer to do? I was reminded of my attempt to learn how to bowl. Like bowling, there was no single way to write which fit everyone. Each writer needed to read what the masters had to say, then adopt some of this, some of that, and develop a style that worked for him.

Actually, writing is more like shopping. I hate shopping, but occasionally my wife, a world class shopper, convinces me to tag along with her. How? With logic.Wives are good at that.

My wife goes into a store to buy, let’s say, a dress. She browses this rack and that rack carefully and slowly. Very slowly. Eventually, she finds a dress she likes. She holds it up, turns it around, touches it, examines whatever features it may have, then returns it to the rack and pulls out another. After what seems like hours, she’ll choose one or two, maybe three, and moves on to the final determining test: trying them on to see what looks and feels the best on her. Sometimes she’ll buy one at that store. Sometimes we’ll go to another store and repeat the process.

But that’s how she finds the best dress for her, and that’s how writers find the writing style best for them. Examine what’s out there, study the different methods, and if something looks and feels right for you, try it on. Eventually, we each settle into a style that fits and feels right for us individually, a style that’s a little of this, a little of that, and works for us. We have to be patient, though. It may take a while.

So if you want to be a good bowler or writer, I may be able to pass along some tips which might help. If you want to be a good shopper, ask my wife.

Earl Staggs


Jean Henry Mead said...

I love this post, Earl. It's so true. A writing coach can teach you the basics, but the best way to learn to write is to write, write and writer some more, and all the while reading and studying the styles of other writers.


Dana Fredsti said...

Excellent post, Earl! I was hoping for at least a few more bowling tips. :-)

Morgan Mandel said...

I haven't bowled in ages.

Anyway, I think it's important each author find his/her own voice. It's not always easy, but once you latch onto it, it's you!

Morgan Mandel

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks for the comments, all. I've found that a writer doesn't move forward until they stop trying to imitate their idols and let their own style and voice come through. It takes time and it takes guts and, sadly, some never take that leap.

Dana, here's a bowling tip I discovered by accident after I'd bowled for nearly a year. It upped my average by three points. Examine a bowling ball carefully and you'll find it has three holes. Insert your thumb in the big hole and a finger in each of the smaller ones. It gives you a better grip on the ball and more control. Try it. You'll see.