Though the Olympic flame as been extinguished and the final portable commode pumped dry, I’m still thinking of polymer-wrapped ski jumpers leaning forward and flying silently through the air toward a graceful — seemingly magical — touchdown near the Subway Sandwich banner. There are several reasons this image has stuck with me, including the many stark contrasts between these jumpers and when I attempted something similar, using a pair of roller skates and my children’s backyard slide. I’m not going to get into the details here because 1) this is supposed to be a post about writing, and 2) I can’t risk putting my kids back into therapy.
All I will tell you is that there was a fair amount of screaming (from me, not the kids), not much “hang time” and a nearly fatal touch-down, which was technically more of an Olympic-sized face-plant. And we’ll just leave it at that. But for anyone who saw my “pole dancing” video knows I’m not exaggerating.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a reason I brought up ski jumping in regard to this week’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing. I realize this isn’t always the case. However, as I watched the Olympics I couldn’t help but think of how, from start to finish, the act of ski jumping is an analogy for what a writer goes through, from manuscript to publication. Except without the risk of landing in a tree (depending on your publisher’s marketing plan.)
Step one: At the top of the slope
Just like a ski jumper looking out over the expanse of winter-blanketed hills, all writers have experienced that inspired moment when they find themselves at a literary vista; when a story or novel idea suddenly materializes before them and it is breathtaking and full of possibilities. And just like ski jumpers, once the magnitude of what they are about to embark on settles in, there is a sudden moment of panic as they question the logic of what they’re doing. Or at the very least, whether they should’ve used the restroom before getting sealed into that polymer jumpsuit. For this reason, I stopped wearing a polymer jumpsuit while writing.
Step two: Get into position
This is when the ski jumper, or writer as the case may be (although I wouldn’t suggest doing them simultaneously), commits to taking what is essentially a leap of faith. There is no turning back at this point. In most cases, it’s because the writer or ski jumper is too driven — by the possibilities and potential — to step away from the jumping-off point. Oftentimes there is someone standing behind them, such as a coach or publisher, offering encouragement and support. And holding a golf club for no apparent reason.
Step three: Down the slope
This is when the ski jumper or writer gains momentum while battling resistance through a combination of fortitude and technique. For both, this portion of the jump is the most critical because its execution will dictate how far they fly and how successful the landing will be. Trust me, as the aluminum foil winner of the backyard slide jump, I can tell you from experience that poor execution at this point can lead to disappointment. And hundreds of views on YouTube. For a writer, this is a time of mixed emotions like exhilaration (This is going to be AWESOME!), second guesses (Should I have gone to trade school?) and self realization (A grilled cheese sandwich sounds really good right now). For a ski jumper, this time is focused on achieveing victory through clearing their mind of everything but a single thought (Oh crap… oh crap… oh crap)
Well, that’s what I was thinking anyway.
Step four: Off the jump
This is when the true leap of faith comes into play, literally and figuratively, depending on your level of health coverage. All the preparation — the endless revisions, the constant adjustments in phrasing, the countless hours of re-writing — all led to this moment as you take to the air and survey what you have created based on your initial discovery of this literary vista! You lean forward, tuck your arms to your sides and hold your breath — hoping to remain suspended and within full view of the world for as long as possible!
Then reality sets in: I still have to LAND this thing!
Step five: The landing
At first glance (assuming you had your eyes open during the jump), the landing appears to be the end. It’s the part where you return to Earth and touch down gracefully before sliding to a stop in front of the Subway banner. Friends and family are there to applaud you. Maybe even Jared is there. Regardless, You look back to the judges and see how well you scored.
The end, right?
Not exactly. As I’ve discovered through the process of having my first book published, the landing is just the beginning in many ways. If you executed well in the air, it makes the landing more successful but, like an Olympic ski jumper, the work continues in order to build on that last jump — so that you can fly higher, go farther and avoid that leg cramp next time. In other words, just because you’ve stuck the landing doesn’t it’s time to stop waxing your skis. It just means it’s time to get more wax.
The only exception to this is if you are attempting a second run on the backyard slide jump, in which case wax is a really bad idea.
Trust me, I know.