Yesterday I saw my first roller derby match. The rules of the game are pretty simple. Two teams of five players skate around a small circuit with one attacking “jammer” from each team trying to score points by lapping opposing defenders. It took me a while to follow the intricacies of the game but as I got a handle on it I started to realise the game had a lot to teach me about writing.
Go hard or go home
I expected the skaters to ease into the match; maybe take a few laps to warm up and find their wheels. No. As soon as the whistle blew the jammers were speeding ahead pushing their way past defenders from the opposing team and scoring points.
And so it should be with your writing. Doesn’t matter what you’re writing, if you wait to grab the reader’s attention, you’re gone. Get in there early and deploy whatever tools you have at your disposal to engage the reader. Early points on the board matter.
Speed-skating around a circuit not much bigger than a tennis court with nine other people just waiting to bump into you, means you’re going to fall down. The roller-derby girls know this and practice falling onto their knee guards instead of their hands. They fall to their knees and slide for a little bit as they slow down. It’s kind of poetic after a while.
Safe writing is boring writing. Everyone knows safe writing when they see it. It’s the sort of stuff you see on the social pages of newspapers and in government reports. It might be competent and occasionally, might even border on engaging. But how much did the writer learn along the way? Think about the last time you stretched your writing muscles and aimed a bit too high or went a bit too fast. Even when you were shovelling up the crap left behind, didn’t it feel kinda good going fast then falling down?
Get up again and keep on skating
After sliding on their knee guards for a while the roller derby girls get back up and keep on skating. I even saw one jammer fall to her knees, slide for a bit then get back up and keep scoring points.
Once you’ve monumentally stuffed up a piece of your writing so badly even your cat refuses to have shredded bits of the manuscript in its litter box get back up again. Too often writing suffers from an author’s failure to stretch their skills or their refusal to keep on pushing the boundaries when they stuff up. Push your writing hard, fall down, learn, get up. Repeat.
It’s okay to have nice things
What I wasn’t expecting at the roller derby were the costumes, the almost compulsory fish-net stockings, the mad hair-cuts and the dance routines. The whole evening was full of spectacle. Whether it was Amber “Eva Brawl” Lee tearing up the track, girls in outrageously short shorts or team managers in bright yellow suits, there was no shortage of entertaining things to engage with.
Cultivate some spectacle in your writing. Make it sing for you. Know your writing style and don’t be afraid to show off some of its best elements.
Stay close to your audience
There were about 2500 people watching the two matches with me. The farthest was probably 30m from the circuit but the closest “suicide” seats were right beside the skaters. The skaters sped by lap after lap only metres from the spectators. And after the games finishes they mingled with the audience, chatting and posing for photos. During the game the announcer declared a nearby pub as the official after-game venue for any audience members who wanted to join in the after-derby drinking.
A writer’s job is to be read. More and more, writers need to engage directly with their audience to help achieve that. Whether it’s through blogs or social media writers need to develop a platform to market themselves and their writing and increase their chance of being read and being published. But you’ve got to love the people you’re hanging around with. Authenticity is key.
Top picture: Gomisan