Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bits and Pieces

Years ago, when I had been skating for about a year and a half, I decided to enter an adult only figure skating competition (competing at the "Pre Bronze" level) I had my waltz jump, toe loop, salchow (all incredibly tiny, but recognizable) and one foot spins, so, of course I was ready.

Since adult-only competitions are about as common as unicorns (okay, not counting regionals and nationals-- yes, those do exist!,) I decided to take advantage of its diversity and signed up for three events-- my freestyle, an artistic interpretive (where you're judged about how your program and "emoting" fit the music. Aka: I got to skate to music with lyrics,) and an improv.

My freestyle dress and program at another competition for my "Harry in Winter" program
Freestyle and Artistic were both choreographed by my coach and I had practiced them enough that I could skate them in my sleep. In fact, I loved my "Harry in Winter*" program so much that people commented on the joy they saw on my face when I skated it (rather than the terror, determination, focus, or pasted-on smiles that many skaters usually show during competition.)

But Improv was a completely different animal. I actually had to improvise. And when put under pressure...

I did three-turns (a basic footwork component) and a jump or two in a circle for the entire, excruciating rap song they had presented to me. Because, while I had bits and pieces in my mental repetoire, I lacked the three things I really needed to make them work-- Experience, phrases, and music that fit me:

1. Experience-- this one is self-explanatory.
2. Phrases-- Over time, you collect more of these bits and pieces of dialogue until you can build an entire conversation. The phrases build in your muscles so that you only need to pull them out of your mental library and go.
3. The right music-- Rap just wasn't something that resonated with me. If I had been given symphonic metal, a pop ballad, or, heck, broadway, I might have been slightly better off, despite my lack of experience and tiny library of phrases. But, instead, I was trying to create in a genre that didn't fit me.

Fast forward to now. I'm slowly growing. I've had six years of experience on the ice. My coach and I have built a collection of footwork and jump combinations that I can start pulling out as needed. And, while I'm not a great improv choreographer, I love playing around on the ice when some of my favorite songs come over the speakers. I'm (mostly) ready for another shot at improv.

I think conferences, critique partners, and just writing practice are the writing equivalent of learning how to choreograph. All three help to build my toolbox of skills so that, when combined with the right inspiration, my fingers get to fly.

There are days when I still wonder if I'm doing the writing equivalent of three turns. At least, they're better three turns than where I was a year, two years, ten years ago, and I know that they'll be even better six years from now. And when I'm in the moment and writing something that makes me smile, it feels just as wonderful as when I'm hopping around the ice surface to "Call Me Maybe."

*Yes, THAT Harry. The song is on the Goblet of Fire soundtrack and is gorgeous. You can hear the first love in it as Harry trudges through the snow and I thought of first loves when I skated to it.
So... do you have non-writing "improv prep" moments?


  1. I'm still hoping to make it to the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC. I think conferences are important, like you say, and I'd love to attend one. :)

    P.S. I love that you skated to Harry Potter. :)

    1. Hopefully we'll both be there this winter! I'd love to meet you in person.

      Then, we can trade notes about any panels we attend :)

      I loved that it was stealth Potter-- no one recognized it. But the Potterhead in me was so happy.

  2. Looooooove this post... love the skating comparison... it's all about having those tools... And you're right, just like with anything, you have to put the time and effort, and tears into getting yourself to where you want to be. I feel like dancing actually prepared me big time for my writing career... they both take discipline and emotion and tools... great post!

    1. And dance lets you learn how to take criticism without falling apart, which is so, so crucial to writing. I love watching people who have danced/skated/seriously trained athletically since childhood (unlike me) tackle writing. They're so, so disciplined!