As I’m writing this post during finals week in our major football codes I thought a sporting theme might be appropriate. I’m one of those writers who has often drawn inspiration and ideas from those ‘back-page’ endeavours. A common wisdom among sporting commentators suggests that a champion team will always defeat a team of champions. The concept translates well to the field of writing.
Far from being a singular activity, good writing involves a wide range of skills and employs numerous distinct components. It’s when all the elements are working together that our writing is at its best.
I often work with writers who are extremely good at one or two aspects of their craft and are confounded by their inability to make a large project, such as a novel, come together. Often they are unaware of the areas that aren’t working for them.
They may, for instance, have mastered the intricacies of plotting and write fantastic moody prose but have characters who are underdeveloped. This is like a football team with a flashy full forward but no one in the midfield to deliver them the ball. A champion team covers its gaps. A champion writer works hard to develop the areas of their writing that have the most room for improvement.
Likewise, a champion team must not only have all the personnel in place, but each element in the team must understand how the others operate. Once a writer has achieved a degree of competence across the major skills of writing they must make sure the elements of any particular work are compatible and not working against each other.
A writer might, for instance, be ‘best-on-ground’ when it comes to beautifully crafted sentences, but if beautifully crafted sentences are not what a story calls for (the equivalent in football might be a game played on a muddy ground, where grit and determination will win the day over pure skill) then the story will not work. The choices writers make for their stories (and the same goes for non-fiction, corporate writing, etc.) are equivalent to their team selections. Their ‘players’ must not only be capable on an individual level but must also work seamlessly together.
A football team is typically made up of dour defenders—miserly and uncompromising—, midfielders with flair and dash who do most of the hard work, and forwards who as often as not, take the credit for the hard work of team-mates up the ground. If all the components are working together the team will be hard to defeat.
The analogy with writing is pertinent. The components must not only all be in place but all be operating towards the same goal. Often the hardest part for writers is seeing beyond what they do well and defining and addressing the areas where they can improve. Sportspeople, of course, have coaches to point these things out. Writers need to be their own ‘coaches’ through constant engagement with their craft, active participation in writing communities, seeking advice at critical moments and, most importantly, constant and curious reading.
May your words pour onto the page,