The Swing You Have

Sunday Letter | #349

Blue water through a silhouette of pines. Patches of green leaves lit by sun.
Lake Superior through the trees, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

There’s a time and place to work on technique, but not during a round. That’s a lesson from my golf learnings this summer that I’ve smuggled back into my writing practice. When you try to correct your swing on the course, you tend to overcorrect, get too in your head. One kludge begets another, and another. Just as when you’re thinking too much about grammar and voice, or plot and character, you slip out of your sentence-by-sentence self. You stop writing from the gut.

There’s a corollary: Play with the swing that you have that day. And some days the swing isn’t fully there. Or it’s too wild. The ball curves right, you can’t seem to hit certain clubs. Just as there are days when the ideas are too wild for the existing story, or when the words don’t flow. Those may be times for different kinds of work, for research, or re-reading. Those may be times to work on new stories. Or just plowing ahead, wildness be damned!

That’s not to say routines aren’t important—they are. The aim of repeating the same motions is to attract consistency. To be able to more regularly write from the gut, with both power and precision. I realize this golf analogy is far from perfect; each round lasts a few hours, each novel (for me) a few years. But I’ve been borrowing from it what I need.

Like lately—the weather’s cooled significantly; I haven’t been able to write outside on the patio table like I did much of the summer. I haven’t been able to write on our lower floor, either, as we’re waiting on a replacement circuit board for our broken basement furnace. We do have heat in the upstairs bedrooms, thankfully, but this coupled with fall travel and other life-maintenance things, the “swing” that I have right now is essentially just reading in bed. So be it.

I sound crabby … but I’m not!