Is Your Writing More Important Than Your Tennis Game?
by Tom Lombardo
I’m not one of those writers who sits down and writes every day whether I have something to write about or not. I hear this all the time at conferences from famous writers—the old saw, “Get up and write for (fill in the blank) hours, even if you don’t have a topic, write yourself into it, then, revise, until you get (fill in the blank) good words.”
If you’re a writer who avoids writing, then perhaps that’s a good process for you. And I’m not saying that the routine of writing each day is a bad thing, especially if you’re a novelist and need to get 75,000 words done by year’s end. But if you’re like me, then you might wait until the muse strikes to put pen to paper or fingers to keys. This aspect of my process may be the fallout from my career as a journalist, both full-time and free-lance. For me, deadlines have helped me learn how to turn on writing at will. Deadlines have become such a part of me that when I don’t have a deadline, I can still write whenever I want to. I can write daily or I can write weekly. I can write at my desk, I can write at a coffee shop, I can write on an airplane, I can write in the water closet, I can write while sitting on my front porch smoking my forbidden cigars, I can write on all forms of public transportation, and I can write in the car on long trips as long as someone else is driving.
One place I can’t write is on the tennis court or the hockey rink, two sports I manage to play into my old age. In order to continue playing those sports, I need to exercise, which I do many days, early in the morning, before any writing begins. But I don’t have a real job to go to every day like my wife does, so the self-questioning arises when one of my tennis buddies contacts me for a 9 AM match. Should I write all morning or play tennis all morning? Coming home at noon from playing 3 hours of tennis is not conducive to writing at all. After showering and eating, there’s hardly time left in my day because I must pick up my children at their respective schools from 3 PM through 4 PM, take them to their various tennis practices, friend’s houses, hockey practices where I’m their coach, etc., and then cook dinner so that it’s ready to eat when my wife arrives home from work. Then, there’s the laundry, shopping, etc., that goes with being the spouse who works at home, does not provide health insurance, and does not bring home the kind of paycheck needed to keep our family of four fed, clothed, and sheltered.
Even with so little time in my life for writing—essentially mornings to early afternoons—I strongly believe in exercise and its effect upon writing. If your body is not fit, your brain cannot work properly. This is an area that some writers ignore. You don’t have to play a sport, but you can at least walk somewhere outside, breathe your share of the troposphere, get your blood moving, clear your head. And you’d be surprised what can come upon you during exercise. Just this week, I was playing tennis on a beautiful day in
in Midtown Atlanta, and walking right by the courts, just outside the fence—I found the woman with the lavender buttons. I’ve been looking for her since high school, and there she was walking right by the court I was playing on. Praise the god of good fortune because it was between games and I was sitting on the bench against the fence, and as she walked by, I noticed, and she smiled. So, I pulled out my cell phone (always keep your cell phone handy, most have recording functions) and recorded a couple of lines, then the next morning drafted a poem about her, spent the following day revising it, and now it’s ready for submission. Had I not been playing tennis at that very instant, I would have missed her completely, and missed the poem, too. Had I stayed home to spend my hours writing instead of playing tennis—perish the thought—I might not have come upon anything as provocative to write about. My point being this: writers can’t just be writers. Writers must have lives that enlarge themselves to include experiences that may lead to writing. Piedmont Park
Maybe those famous writers of the old saw exercise, too. Maybe they do it in the afternoons, after their writing sessions. Ernest Hemingway, a particularly avid proponent of the daily writing mantra, was also an avid outdoorsman after all. Unfortunately my afternoons get blocked off by my Mr. Mom duties, so I face the choice on some days: exercise or write. My choice, usually, is exercise over writing. The only time I choose writing over exercise is when the exercise comes up against my own personal writing mantra: Paying writing comes first. Always. My creative writing, at this point, doesn’t pay much. Yet. So until it does, I put aside all creative writing and sometimes even my tennis game until I meet the freelance deadline. After all, I must somehow pay for the tennis balls and court fees.
Tom Lombardo of Atlanta, GA, is editor of The Tom Lombardo Poetry Selections for Press 53. Tom actively reads journals, magazines, ezines, and anthologies in search of poets to bring to Press 53 by way of The Tom Lombardo Poetry Selection series. In 2008, Tom edited and published After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events (Sante Lucia Books), which features 152 poems by 115 poets from 15 countries. Tom is a widely published and respected poet, and is a graduate of the MFA program at Queens University in Charlotte, NC. His mission is to bring 4-6 poetry collections to Press 53 each year. To learn more about Tom and After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events visit www.poetryofrecovery.com. Contact Tom at Tom@Press53.com.