Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Bowling Alley

Swing open those big glass doors and welcome to the bowling alley of writing. Check your ego along with your shoes and let's play. Beware. It's not as easy as it looks.

You stand at the end of a long narrow alley. Your mission? Hurl that heavy ball in your hand down the runway and knock over all the pins. How hard can it be? It's just like all your friends say, "Oh, I've always wanted to write a book. I just can't find the time", or "I've got a great idea for a book, I'm going to write it during my time off work this summer."

Yeah, good luck to them.

First you need to: Prepare.

In bowling, this will be your approach to the line. You need to time your stride and your swing. In writing, it's the brainstorming and note-taking before you write. Some prepare more, some less. I believe the more you prepare the less likely disaster will come as your ball (or pen) rolls down the alley (or paper). However, you can get lucky.

I don't believe much in luck.

Second you need to: Release the ball.

It's the first draft. It may be wobbly, but it goes down the alley. It may roll fast, it may roll slow - but it rolls.

Third you need to: Knock down the pins.

The pins are your characters. See how neatly they're arranged? See how they never fall the way you thought they would? Non-writers cannot understand when a writer comments on their characters misbehaving. "How is this possible?" they say, "you're the writer - you're the one in charge." I smile at this remark and then change the subject. I will not tell them of the myriad of times I've looked at my computer screen and said, out loud, "What are you doing?" or "You little sneak"(or another more colourful metaphor - I am alone after all) or "Well, aren't you clever?"

Fourth, you need to: Avoid the gutter.

The gutter is when your plot goes off track - and not in a good way. This is when you (unwittingly, of course) write yourself into a corner, or discover you have assigned behaviour or attitudes to characters that are completely illogical. Luckily, you get more than one turn.

With time, you learn to release the ball at exactly the right moment and it will pick up speed as it heads, straight and true, toward the pins. Practice makes perfect - or better, anyways.

I wish you all many perfect games. And, by the way... love your shoes.


  1. Writer as kegler--I love it! (And you forgot the cool shirt with your name stitched, in cursive, above the pocket.)

  2. Elspeth - What a wonderful metaphor for writing! If I may, I'd like to add: put the right shoes on. By that I mean, see yourself as a writer - as a creator of stories. It takes that self-view and self-confidence to keep going when one has gutterballs...

  3. This was a great metaphor for writing.
    I feel like I want to bowl now :)

  4. Alan; How could I have forgotten those marvy shirts? It's the name on them that makes them art.

    Margot; The shoes are all-important, aren't they? They need to be the right type and the right size. The non-slip soles can be lifesavers - especially when you want to throw yourself down the alley after yet another gutter ball.

    Carolyn; I'm glad you liked it. I like any sport that lets you sit and eat between turns.

  5. Nice analogy. I'm starting a new manuscript now, and I'm already seeing the pins going every which way.

  6. Do I get a funky bowling shirt too :)

    Great analogy!

  7. A really great post, Elspeth. Your shoes are pretty darn snazzy, too :)

  8. Great analogy! I loved Margot's comment about the right shoes. It not only applies to seeing yourself as a writer but making sure you're writing what fits you best.

  9. Avoid the gutter?! But I am QUEEN of the gutter! I also love the analogy because I've bowled enough to know SOMETIMES you are really in the zone... it's almost magical, and sometimes, it takes three or four games to finally get on the right footing.


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