Monday, July 16, 2012

Chicken Wings & Headhopping Belong in a Big Pot of Barbecue Sauce

As a runner, when I get fatigued, my arm carriage changes—pulls up closer to my body—resembling the wings of a chicken. With my shoulders hunched closer to my ears, I have a shorter arm swing and shorter stride. But the worst part is—soreness in my lower neck and shoulders.  I spent two painful hours in the last few days with a masseuse trying to work out the tightness in that area caused by incorrect running form. My shoulder is not any better. Next stop is to see an Orthopedist.   

That’s one of the disadvantages of running alone. If I had been running with a buddy and mentioned sore shoulders, I would have been told to loosen up, relax my arms. Isn’t it amazing how a simple observation can change the way you do something, making you more effective and efficient. Critiques partners are great at this.   

When I started writing I made all the newbie mistakes. I head-hopped with the best of ‘em. I wrote scenes that did nothing but tell the reader what was happening, and I dumped pages of unnecessary backstory right smack in the middle of the opening chapter. Oh, yeah, I also  loaded my dialogue tags with plenty of adverbs. One by one, my story’s “chicken wings” started disappearing. It didn’t happen overnight and it certainly wasn’t easy, but each time I adjusted my form, the writing became smoother and clearer.  It’s a lot more difficult to write the non-POV’s character’s reactions then it is to slip into that character’s head then pop right out again.  

I’m still on the upside of the author learning curve but the top of the hill is in sight. All I have to do is stay focused and remember to just put one foot in front of the other and keep on trucking (with relaxed arms). And that’s the same thing I do when I’m out on long training runs. If I thought about the total miles I had to go, I might be tempted to quit. Instead, I look only as far as the next loop around Ashland Park. 

Critique partners can help you with your form. They can point out those problem areas or faulty habits in your writing, but you’re the only person who can put in the work to make the writing the best it can be. Do you know where your chicken wings are? Do you know what you need to do to fix them?

You may need to go back to that inspirational craft book. You know the one that’s almost completely highlighted with your “aha” moments. Go back and read it again. I bet you’ll add another color highlighter to several pages. 

As writers we never stop learning. If we did, our writing would get stale. The next sentence you write in your story, push a little bit harder, swing your arms higher, and put those chicken wings into a big pot of barbecue sauce.  

Happy writing and running, Kathy

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