What An Uncoordinated Writer Can Learn From Musical Theatre and Tennis

Spring break seems to come at just the right time every year, just when we have hit our limit of late nights, early classes, too many fast-approaching deadlines and time with the the same people every day in and out.  This year, in particular, I was ready for break.  Partially, it could be due to the fact that this lovely winter has been the snowiest in the history of Ann Arbor.  How lucky we are that we got to be here for that!  The other big reason I wanted a break was to let myself live without evaluation.  I know this may sound strange, but in my major (Musical Theatre), I’m judged every single second.  Faculty are constantly critiquing not only our coursework (like scenes presented in class, journal entries, songs, dance combinations, etc), but every part of how we present ourselves from what we wear to how we say our names to how much makeup we wear.  Even my writing assignments, whether in the Minor Class or in classes like Theatre History, are being evaluated and judged…in most cases with a letter grade assigning a judgement of value.  So when March 1st rolled around, I was looking forward to a break from having my work judged.  Little did I know that I would be spending part of my break studying just that.

My acting teacher assigned a book called The Inner Game of Tennis , by W. Timothy Gallwey, over break.  At first, I was a little bitter that I had an entire book to read over break.  Being as uncoordinated as I am, I was also not convinced that I was going to gain a whole lot from a book about tennis.  But, it turned out that it opened my eyes up to detrimental attitude habits, formed from the performance pressure of being judged, that are getting the way of my schoolwork, performing, relationships and drumroll please….my writing!  Gallwey uses the game of tennis as a way to explain the way our judgmental attitudes get in the way of our performance, whether on the tennis court, stage, boardroom or classroom.  He introduces the concept of Self One, which tells us what to do, and Self Two, which does the actual doing.  When the Self One controls the Self Two through phrases like “Why can’t you get this?”, “You’re worthless” or “This is so easy and you’re having so much trouble!” and creates feelings of self-doubt, guilt and anxiety and interferes with concentration.  He explores these concepts in many ways and brings up brilliant ideas.  Yet, my favorite was the idea of  looking at our work and progress in an observational way without judging it as good or bad.  This shift in attitude has been huge in my performance work and personal life.  I think it can be equally as powerful in our writing.

The Inner Game of Tennis, the book I was assigned to read.  Image from: blog.loyola.edu
The Inner Game of Tennis, the book I was assigned to read. Image from: blog.loyola.edu

How often do we, as writers, judge our work as poor and start to beat ourselves up?  We get frustrated when we can’t get the words to come like we want them to and we may begin to doubt ourselves as writers.  Sometimes we throw a piece out or quit trying because we begin to think we aren’t capable of making it work.  We judge what we wrote as “bad” instead of looking at it in an observational light and simply noting what works and what doesn’t, accepting that we are gifted writers and that the piece of writing is what it is.  There is nothing inherently wrong with our writing.  It’s in a process and we must see it for what it is, nothing more or less, and go from there to make changes.  Isn’t this the point of shitty first drafts and rounds and rounds of revising?  To give ourselves the allowance to be who we are, imperfect and learning beings?  For me, this is reassuring as a person and as a writer, that we all struggle to quiet our perfectionist Self One so that our Self Two can revel in freedom from pressure and judgement and find its voice.  For I think that it’s when we listen to our Self Two that we truly can write as we were made to.

3 thoughts to “What An Uncoordinated Writer Can Learn From Musical Theatre and Tennis”

  1. Christina,

    This was an excellent post and has really made me want to read “The Inner Game of Tennis!” I totally agree that looking outside are specified fields for interest and learning is extremely important and useful to advance our own skills. In fact, in my Syntax of Sports class we spent a whole week talking about how we can become “foxy hedgehogs,” writers who tab into a little bit of everything to be good at a wide range of fields which in turn helps our specialty. This is why athletes cross train so that they may learn about how different muscles work under different pressures and situations. Very cool concept, and it’s so cool to see you immediately benefiting from it.
    I do agree how you explore the dichotomy of good and bad when it comes to our writing. I think this is just part of human nature—we like to put things into categories to make sense of them in our mind. Plus, these adjectives are all a matter of perspectivism, although there are certain instances where something is universally accepted as good or bad writing which we can all agree on.
    Again, really enjoyable post, girl! Keep looking to other fields to get even more diversified~

  2. Hey, Christina,

    What an interesting argument the writer of this book created. I’d love to know more about it, and I’m now super interested in reading it.

    As someone who’s been intensely involved with theatre since fourth grade, I can totally relate to what you were saying about the judgement one feels. When a play I write goes in front of an audience, I feel like its appearing in front of a jury, attempting to justify itself. I did acting for sometime, so I know the pressure one feels when they are the target of judgement–there’s something really hard about trying to make you as a body and personality into something that everyone approves of. I can’t imagine the pressure that must come to you in a program as intense as UM’s musical theatre program.

    As someone who has to be constantly hyper-aware of the judgement of viewers always observing you, I think that letting go of your judgment and the judgment you think others will have of your writing will be a really rewarding challenge for the rest of this semester. I also think that it may be interesting for you to explore the connection between performing for an audience on the stage and performing for an audience on the page. How is the judgement similar? How is it different? How is do the processes of engaging them similar and different? Just some interesting thoughts this blog left me with.

  3. Hello!

    I was so interested in what you were going to say about musical theater and tennis– how could those two things possibly be connected?

    I immediately related with how you feel constantly judged in school. In high school I did musicals, although not very competitive myself and only trying to have some fun, it was so easy to get caught up in the rampant spirit of judgement that seems to be inherently a part of performing. Every detail was always judged against my peers or against some other standard that always felt unattainable, and this is just fun-sucking. Performing became less fun, and by senior year, I was ready to be done with them. This is kind of how I’m starting to feel about writing now. It used to be fun, but the fun gets squashed under all the self-doubt and worry generated by constantly being watched. I like the idea of looking at our work in an observational way, but it seems so much easier said than done. When we observe, how do we do it objectively? How do you train yourself to notice things beyond “good” and “bad”?

    Anyways, I really enjoyed reading this! Very interesting and relatable, good job!

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