Thanks, Rowing, for the Writing Reminders

Nowadays, if I’m not writing, I’m likely doing something rowing related. I’ve been a competitive athlete as far back as I can remember, whether it was club softball, volleyball, or basketball. For the last decade, I’ve been deeply entrenched in rowing, first as a collegiate athlete, then a collegiate coach, and now a juniors coach. It’s a sport that’s highly feedback-based, and ever since I’ve started taking writing seriously, it’s been easy to draw parallels between writing critique and coaching athletes. However, giving advice is not the same as receiving it. During my last two morning rows, where I was in the boat instead of on the launch with a megaphone, I came to appreciate a few things rowing reminded me about taking feedback, and how it’s helped me become a better writer.

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The fellas I have the privilege of coaching

1. Commitment to a Shared Vision

In the rowing shell, there is always one, clear goal – make this boat move as efficiently as possible. With every stroke, nine people are locked in on how to better move through the water, get more loaded on the oar, stay even over the keel…whatever it takes to cut swiftly. Along the way, the coach or coxswain is giving pointers and communicating adjustments which each athlete accepts and applies, because everyone believes that’s what it takes to make the boat run.

In writing, the objective is to make the manuscript the best version of itself.  When the vision is clear, and everyone, from critique partners to editors, is giving feedback to that end, it turns feedback into something that’s eagerly anticipated instead of feared.

2. Taking Personal Responsibility

When my coxswain says, “The boat is off to port at the release,” my first thought is what am I doing in my stroke to toss the shell? Are my hands too low? Is my shoulder angle off? Am I not maintaining lateral pressure? I run through the list, checking my positions to see what I can do to contribute setting up the boat. It’d be easy to ignore her call (as many of our novice athletes do), and assume someone else is the reason for the flop.

While this comes up less in critique (you can’t hide from your own work, and that rawness is something I love about this craft), I certainly see it in my writing time accountability. It’s too easy to blame missing word counts on having to cut the grass or being swamped at the office. But when I take ownership over my actions and my goals, suddenly, new words appear on the page. What a concept. Easier said than done, and the discipline is something I still continue to work on daily.

3. Celebrating Victories

The path toward the mystical rowing nirvana of perfect ratio, perfect set, perfect run is paved with an inordinate amount of discipline, grit, frustration and more calls of “even hands!” and “lift into the catch!” than one can count. But occasionally, there are these moments where everything is silent except for the click of oars and bubbles running alongside the boat. Bubbles. Oh, those glorious bubbles. The little pops that show that even for a few strokes, you got something right, and all nine people in the boat share in the bliss together.

All too often in writing, we beat ourselves up – always looking for what we did wrong, never for what we did right. Recognition of strengths and wins is just as important as identifying what needs work. It’s not arrogant to allow yourself the time to appreciate all the effort it took to create that one awesome sentence or nail that particular scene. Sure, it might not survive to the final draft, but you can enjoy the moment for what it is – however brief it may be.

This list could go on forever, as I believe many of life’s best lessons can be learned on the water, but if I keep blogging about writing and rowing, I may not hit today’s word count goal. In two, weigh enough.

INTO REVISION WE GO

Officially two weeks into the first revision of Highness. Considering how long it took me to settle on an outlining process, I was worried I’d end up spending half of April waffling between the million suggested methods. I learned from my outlining woes, however, and used my time away from the MS to nail down my steps toward writing the second draft. The process that resonated with me most was Susan Dennard’s (her website is full of fantastic resources for writers). While her revision steps are a little heavy on the worksheets, they’ve helped loosely guide my path. I’m particularly fond of what she calls “Dreaming the Perfect Book”, and taking the time to tie back into the vision for the story.

Rewriting is off to a good start. I have direction and a track to run on. Incorporating major changes, but the story is already stronger for it. Pogie has a keen eye for plot holes, so I think we’ll be in solid shape moving forward.

PogieMS

Printing out the book and reading start to finish was an experience. Sure the pages are chock full of red pen and “wtf?” comments now, but physically holding the full story for the first time was surreal. Like, a bunch of stuff that’s been floating around in my head for over a decade is in my hands. No matter where the story goes, that in itself is pretty badass.

DOUBLE K

Back in February, I finished the first draft of my WIP, Your Imperial Highness. Common advice is to spend time away from the manuscript before jumping into revisions, so that you can transition into the editing phase with fresh eyes. I’ve dutifully kept Scrivener closed the last month, and filled my free time with consuming narrative in its various forms aka watching a lot of Citrus and reading Nevernight. This has all been loads of fun, but as strange as it is to say, I miss the book. How weird is that? I feel goofy even admitting it. Who knew taking space from the MS would be so difficult? My self-imposed break ends next weekend and work on the second draft begins. Needless to say, I’m pumped.

KristoffKaufmanSpeaking of Nevernight, I drove down to Chicago to see Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman on their book tour for the Obsidio release. These Broken Stars was the best book I read last year (I adore Lilac LaRoux), and the opportunity to see them both was too exciting to pass up. Jay and Amie are awesome, hilarious people. It was great hearing them talk about their co-authoring process and creative choices while writing the Illuminae Files. They were both super generous with their time and stuck around until 11pm signing books. Their journey is inspiring (I may or may not have told Jay that I found his old AbsoluteWrite posts re: Stormdancer), and despite the car towing incident the following morning, meeting them was totally worth the trip.

WRITER IN PROGRESS

Prior to starting this initial post, I read a bunch of those “How to Make the Best Blog Ever” articles. That’s generally how I roll. Learn the rules of the game, understand the methods for success, and establish a logical approach – a system that a lifetime involved in athletics and business will teach you. Effective, perhaps, and also drab. But after jamming page after page on ‘Top Lists’ and the power of niche subject matter into my head, I quickly decided that wasn’t what I wanted for this blog.

See, my favorite blogs have what I’ll call Superhero Origin Stories. They’re written by authors I admire and have front pages chock-full of photos from book tours and the covers of their latest NYT best-sellers. I love that stuff just as much as the next fan, but the best part of those sites is buried waaay at the bottom. Scroll down far enough and somewhere in tiny print you’ll find the archives – the origin stories. The Batman Begins of writers that have made the journey from obscurity to publication, and have documented all the setbacks and victories along the way. They’re raw, honest, illogical, rule-breaking, and far more inspiring than looping TED talk videos on YouTube. They’re real.

So, casual reader/spambot/person from 2025, that’s what you can expect to find here – genuine musings from a writer in progress.

Calling this my origin story is wishful on one end, pretentious on the other. But hey, I found solace while creeping through the blog depths of authors in the throes of first drafts, querying, and all the other masochistic things we budding novelists willingly (and often gleefully) put ourselves through. If you can find the same comfort and occasional commiseration while following my adventure as I did in theirs, then you can call it whatever you want.