Stretch

For the last several years, I’ve worked an assignment that has stretched me as a writer as much as anything has in a long, long time.

WritingI’ve never sat down with the intentions of putting a fictional story to paper, but some of the sports I’ve covered for NCAA.COM are just about as close as I will ever get. NASCAR, I know. I worked that circus full time for nearly ten years. I’ve loved baseball since I was a child. I played football in high school.

Technically, I didn’t exactly play high-school football. I was on the team. I had a uniform and everything, but to actually play, you have to see time on the field. I was such a stellar athlete, I rode the bench for a team that went 0-10.

Seriously.

I still loved football, and knew it well. But men’s gymnastics? Lacrosse? Track and field? Swimming and diving? My very first exposures to those sports were the days I sat down in the press box … or tent … or grandstands … to work their national championships.

I had a decision to make, and I had to make it quickly. I could treat these sports as some sort of quirky and obscure sideshow attractions, or I could handle them the way I eventually did. These coaches and student-athletes were absolutely as passionate about their respective endeavors as any involved in more well-known sports like football, basketball, and baseball.

How could I treat them with anything less than the utmost respect? I had to learn, and I had to do so fast. Admitting ignorance can be a wonderful thing sometimes, as I learned from the NCAA committee member who patiently explained the difference between a game, set, and match in tennis. I understood completely, I think.

As a result, I’ve come away with some of the most memorable stories of my career. There was Mo Imel, the women’s lacrosse star who gave up a Division I scholarship to move to a Division II school closer to her cancer-stricken sister. After her sister passed away, Mo and her parents attended the funeral in Maryland and then made the spur-of-the-moment decision to drive overnight to Mo’s lacrosse match the next afternoon in Florida.

Mo scored two goals that day, including the game winner.

So, Tip Number One is to broaden your horizons as a writer. What’s that one subject you’ve always considered writing about, but haven’t gotten around to actually sitting down and tackling just yet? Go for it, and you might be surprised at how it turns out.

Then there’s the sheer volume of copy I’ve been called upon to file for NCAA.COM. My personal record for churning out stories — and I’m talking career-wise, not just for NCAA.COM — is thirty-seven 800-word stories in sixteen days. Producing such a massive amount of work in that short a timeframe was one of my toughest challenges in nearly a quarter of a century as a full-time writer.

Again, I had a decision to make. When filing that much copy, it would have been easy to “phone it in” on a story or two. In other words, I could’ve simply slapped a bunch of words up on my laptop screen and sent them in without really caring about the result.

Aside from the theological implications of not making the best use of your God-given abilities, there are a few problems with this approach. Turn in too many “clunker” stories, and the assignment may go to somebody else the next time around. And for a freelancer like me, that’s a bad thing. A very, very bad thing.

Also, that story might very well be the only one ever written about a given coach or student-athlete. It’ll probably be posted on their Facebook page, or maybe even printed out and placed in a scrapbook or on the family refrigerator. If it’s under your byline, you want it to be the best story it can be, regardless of how many came before or after it.

Tip Number Two is to give yourself plenty of time when writing, if at all possible. If your deadline is tight, don’t just pound the story out and file it. Do your best work, always.

Believe it or not, I’m actually headed to Louisville, Kentucky this week to cover an NCAA Division II championship sports festival. Six different sports in three days, and filing what I’m assuming will be multiple stories for each. Say a prayer for me!

Just do (aka write) it!

When I was a teen, I had a habit of using the words “I’ll try” often. In my teenage mind, saying this was non-committal and got me out of stuff.

Mom: “Krista, clean your room.”

Krista: “Okay, I’ll try to get it done tonight.”

If I didn’t… oh, well. I tried. Just got busy and wasn’t able to finish. Shucks….

I remember at one point, my to-be-husband and I were talking about something (I don’t recall what now) and I responded with the reply, “Well, I guess I’ll try.”

It is his response that I DO remember.

“Don’t try, Krista. Just do it.”

I then realized how much my “I’ll try” excuse was just that. A big honkin’ excuse for mediocrity. A way to not feel so bad when I didn’t succeed. Because at least I tried, right?

Now don’t get me wrong. Trying is a GOOD THING. Too many people drag their feet and never TRY something because they fear failure or are just too dadgum lazy.

But that wasn’t me. My trying was only an excuse.

I’ve realized lately that “trying” has crept into my writing. “I’ll try to get some writing time in…” and then time just floats away like a helium balloon you give your kid outside and expect them to actually NOT let go of. At the end of the day, little writing done, I will look back and say, “Whoops. Well, I tried. I’ll try again tomorrow.”

At some point, if we’re going to be serious writers, we have to do more than just try. We have to glue ourselves to the chair, duct tape our wrists to the keyboard, and just WRITE.

If you were running a business (which if you are a writer, YOU ARE!) would you tell your customer, “Well, I tried to _________ but just got busy. Maybe tomorrow…?”

There will always be distractions. Other things to do. Kids to take care of. And sometimes those things DO take priority.

My youngest of four daughters has spent almost the last year in the hospital, and after several failed open heart surgeries and three very long months of waiting, she received a heart transplant in April. She’s been in the hospital 4 times again since May after her first 10 month hospital stay. Um, priority? YES. I wrote VERY little this past year.

But even as crazy as my life is now with meds 4 times a day, vitals to take, a Gtube to feed through, oxygen to manage, and a billion and one doctor’s visits, if I’m gonna be serious about this writing thing, I gotta stop just trying to write.

I have to just do it.

Because she’s home, and if I don’t get back to it now, I might as well quit. And quitting is NOT an option.

Tips for “Just doing it”

Enlist the help of your family. That’s what I have done. When my hubby is home, he will take over for an hour or two so I can hunker down at the computer.

Take advantage of even the little times. A few weeks ago, between physical therapy and transplant clinic appointments, Annabelle and I parked ourselves in Panera near the hospital. She napped while Mommy wrote for an hour! I wrote maybe 500 words, but it was something. And that something counts!

Set a schedule. SO many people do this successfully. I’m not one of those thus far, but I’m working toward it! Having a set time to write not only makes you honor your writing commitment like a professional, but it also helps you to act the part of a time managing business professional too.

Set goals. Some have a daily word count goal. Others have a weekly goal, or maybe even a month goal. Still others just have a goal related to time, say, spending an hour a day. Or maybe you’re editing and it’s to edit a chapter a day. Whatever your pleasure, set a goal, high enough that you have to work at it, but not too high that it’s unattainable. (i.e. no 100 words a week… but no 100,000 words a week either!!)

How do you carve out your writing time? Any tips to making yourself “just do it” even when life could easily take over? What are some excuses YOU have made?