Recently, reading a book on long-range shooting, I ran across the quote “Long-range shooting is an art. Ballistics is physics, especially once the bullet leaves the barrel of a gun.”* The authors went on to note that shooting consistently, with an eye to accuracy in all situations, was critical to ensuring performance in adverse conditions.
Not that different from writing, in some ways, except for the part where we’re not on the two-way range. (I’m a fan of not being on the two-way range. Living on the South Side of Chicago taught me how to determine which direction gunshots were coming from, as opposed to where they sounded like they were coming from after bouncing off brick and concrete buildings. It also taught me to truly despise and fear not the bullet with my name on it, but the one labeled “to whom it may be concerned.” I can’t get that worked up about a one-star, by comparison.)
Creative writing is an art. The tools we use are fairly well established, from grammar and punctuation, to foreshadowing, genre conventions, and plot archetypes. (And if you think the oxford comma debates are fierce, well, trust me, there’s plenty of heated debates on gear and setup in the shooting community, too.)
That said, I was struck by the way the authors consistently train to perform both the art and the science in all conditions. And I wondered if we can apply that to our own endeavours. I’ve known authors who insist they can’t write unless they’re wearing the right thing, have the right drink, have no interruptions, and are in the right mindset. I’ve also known people who won’t go out to the range when it’s raining, too hot, too cold, too windy, or muggy. Or they’re not feeling it.
But I also know writers, and know of writers who are eking out words around kids with learning disabilities, around two jobs, around crippling injuries, around being evacuated for hurricanes and fires… right down to one writer who snuck away to “grab something from the store” and would sit and write for 20 minutes in the parking lot, in blessed stolen snippets where the words she’d been thinking about poured out in the available time, and another whose first draft was on the back of scrap paper written between patients while doing rounds.
And I thought – there are books out there for increasing your writing speed, but have you seen any good advice for training yourself to write in adverse conditions? It’s not a skill set we’re likely to pick up naturally, any more than house-clearing in a stack is a skill you’d pick up naturally. It seems to be a mindset and an interlocking set of coping skills that is as fantastically complex to come to without training as, say, keeping a house clean and organized, or rebuilding an airplane.
This year isn’t likely to get any less crazy before it’s out. So rather than reacting by shutting down under stress… how do you embrace the suck, and thrive?