Monday, October 27, 2014

Writers Are Word Dancers

My wife and I love competition. Because there aren’t many sports that a couple can engage in fully clothed, we chose competition sport dancing. Sport dancing, or DanceSport, is an international sport much like soccer is international.

Like any sport, DanceSport requires coaching, training, dedication, and practice to compete successfully. There many levels of competition in divisional categories based on whether a couple is amateur or professional, just like there are many levels of writing based on whether you are an amateur or a professional.

In addition to dancing, I also write novels, and sometimes I can’t help but compare potential success in writing to potential success on the dance floor. After all, each has its share of winners and losers. As mentioned above, as a dancer I must be coached and trained to be successful.  Is this true in writing?  Of course it is.  Having worked in nearly all facets of the publishing industry, I’ve always found this to be the case. However, I find that many writers feel they can compete with no training at all. Yes, almost everyone can write just like almost everyone can dance. However, everything changes when you go from just writing to wanting to be a published author, just like everything changes when you step off the social dance floor and onto the competitive dance floor.

For example, presentation becomes not only important, but vital. Step on the competition dance floor in jeans, and you’re not going to get a lot of the judges’ positive attention and that will distract them from getting the full impact of your dancing. The same goes for a manuscript. A sloppy manuscript is fine for your personal read-throughs, but when you decide to ask a reader to buy your work, your book needs to be polished so that it doesn’t distract from the story or readers will never buy another one of your books.

Also, even at the lowest levels of dance competition, the interpretation of the music is key. Just going through the patterns is not enough, even if they are technically perfect. If there’s not emotion, no connection with the music, there’s nothing for the audience to connect with. The same goes for your book--story is everything. If you have no real story, nothing your readers can connect to and enjoy, then you don’t have a book.

In dance, we practice and practice and practice to compete for anywhere from 5-20 minutes, depending on the competition. In publishing, books that take months to write and revise often only get about the same amount of time to wow the reader. Each requires a great deal of effort with little time to impress the intended audience, so the stakes become incredibly high.

Writers for years complained about gatekeepers who they felt were standing in their way and preventing them from being successful authors.  But as with dancers, writers also have those who judge their performance and it’s not just agents and editors anymore.  Even now that most gates are wide open, the indie author is still being held accountable by the same gatekeeper who has always judged them—the reader.

When you decide to go to the next level, whether in dancing or writing or something similar, you have to be prepared to understand, first of all, that competition is fierce, that there different levels and requirements, and ultimately, success of performance is directly proportional to how much time and effort is spent in preparation of the final product and its presentation.  And, as it is with competitive dancing, performance is everything.