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.