Get up, don’t trash-talk yourself, and write/ski/try again. Those of you living in the Seattle area might know that yesterday was the final day the Steven’s Pass was open. A generous friend gave my husband and I some free rental and lift tickets and we seized the day for a final sprint on the slopes.
My prior skiing experience has been a few lessons from my husband, who skied as a child, but is mainly a snowboarder. I decided that this was a good time for me to take a lesson (ignoring the strangeness that I was learning to ski on the final day of the season). My ski instructor was named Bear and he had a rough, no-nonsense attitude about it. Combine this with a woman (me) who is a bit of a perfectionist, prefers to be good at everything she does, and has a sensitive disposition and you might see how the lesson went.
Bear wasn’t mean, but he did shout several times whenever he saw me reverting to bad form when I felt my skis going too fast.
Before I ever tried skiing, I knew it would be challenging, so I skimmed The Inner Game of Tennis, by W. Timothy Gallwey, at the suggestion of my friend, Laine. She said it was an excellent book about getting into the mindset of learning something new.
There are amazing insights in this book, and it is especially good for pre-emptively defending yourself against self-discouragement. In skiing, in tennis and…can’t you guess what I’m going to say next? In writing…you can’t let yourself be discouraged by failure while you try something new. The best and fastest way to improve is to turn off the inner critic and simply repeat what you’re trying to learn over and over, copying excellence as best you can.
An adept instructor is very helpful with this second part. As a skier, this means taking a professional lesson early. You might have friends who will offer to teach you, but they won’t know the best and fastest ways to correct your form, and they might teach you their own bad habits. You might end up with a lot of other things that a ski instructor will make you unlearn.
The same goes for writing. Study with professionals whose work you admire. Take a writing class. Find a really good book on writing that you know is well-recommended and study it. Read the work of acclaimed authors and study what they do. Meanwhile, work on your own writing without comparing it. You have a lot to learn and you’re definitely not going to write a best seller or a long-lasting classic on your first try.
Truth is, most of those celebrated authors didn’t either. They had to practice, to study under an apprenticeship, and learn from the masters of their time. There’s nothing in the world that says that you shouldn’t have to do the same thing if you want to get really good at something.
I’m dealing with the reality that learing to ski is going to be very very hard for me. I have motivation, though. My husband loves snow sports more than most things, and learning to ski is a way I can love him.
And if you think I’m exaggerating about how hard learning to ski is, the following is a true story. When I went to the rental return office to turn in my skis, boots, and poles, I pulled off my goggles and found little puddles in the bottom–tears, silently shed in frustrated toil as I tried to learn. I have not perfected the art of not getting down on myself when my body/mind/heart refuses to do what I want it to. But I’m still trying.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron draws connections between varied acts of endurance. She says that writing a novel will help you to run a marathon and running a marathon will help you write a novel.
Life is interconnected; that’s one of its beauties. So as you dig within yourself to find the determination to keep writing, as I muscle up the courage to learn to ski, these seemingly disconnected skills will work together.
I want to end with this quote from the Inner Game of Tennis. It’s about viewing ourselves as what we will become, rather than criticizing our partial completion of the journey.
When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.
Where are you struggling with getting up and trying again? Is self-criticism blocking you from lifting the pen today? What past failures or mistakes or doubts are stopping you from your writing practice today?