Brandi Megan Granett
In 1999, several factors conspired that caused me to walk away from writing for a very long time: my first novel was accepted for publication, my darling daughter was born, and the publishing industry imploded. Combining the demands of new motherhood with diminishing ability to sell books and zero support from my publisher recently acquired by a big five house left a bad taste in mouth about the whole writing business. So I walked away. I started homeschooling my daughter. I taught classes about writing instead of writing.
When my daughter decided she wanted to be an archer in the Olympics or a Renaissance faire, I did what any homeschool mother worth her salt would do; I bought her a bow and took her to the local archery shop. X-Ring, to get some arrows. When the owner, Jon Bach said with a sly grin, “You know mom, women are better than men at archery,” he had my attention. Soon I found myself signed up for lessons and hooked on archery the way I once had been on writing.
Little did I know that archery would teach me so many valuable lessons that would lead me back to writing as well!
So What if It’s Christmas
To say I was hooked on archery was an understatement. Just as I used to dream of getting a short story in the New Yorker, I not only wanted to shoot archery, I wanted to make the Olympic team. But instead of just dreaming about it, I trained for it. Archery taught me that to excel you need to work—every day. It didn’t matter if it was Christmas. your birthday, or you were tired. I would find myself shooting at midnight if I didn’t have the time during the day. I shot the morning of my wedding! When the writing bug hit me again, and I started working on Triple Love Score, I knew I needed to apply this same discipline. I set myself a target of 500 words a day and wrote every day, whether I felt like it or not. Writing couldn’t be precious; it just needed to be done.
You Need a Team
Archery, even though it is a solo sport in most cases, benefits from a team approach. I found such a supportive community from coaches to other archers. Asking for advice, seeking out examples of other archers in person or online, attending seminars, and sharing knowledge I gained in return became the cornerstones of my development as an archer. Without my tribe of archers, this sport would be damn lonely and extremely challenging; it is difficult to learn everything on your own! Writing is no different. This time around I found myself seeking out other writers. I friended them on Facebook. I attend conferences like the Key West Writing Seminar and the Yale Summer Writing Conference. Most importantly, I joined the Tall Poppy Writers, a collective of women fiction authors who pledge to support each other through marketing and the sharing of resources and advice. Without archery, I never would have learned the value of forging so many connections. An archery coach I am fond of, Jim White, teaches that relationships determine results. I can’t thank him enough for sharing this key insight with me.
Thoughts are Things
My personal coach and biggest cheerleader, Len Cardinale, teaches the powerful mantra, thoughts are things. If you step up to the shooting line and think, “I will never hit this target,” guess what? You just sabotaged your chances. The same thing is true as you face a writing project. If you look at every pitch or query and say they’ll never like this, you are just setting yourself up for failure. In both writing and shooting, I try to keep a positive focus; after all, in both games, my thoughts are just about the only things I can control!
Sometimes You’ve Got to Put it Down
Learning when to walk away or when to start over is one of the hardest lessons I’ve faced as an archer. When an injury sidelined me, I struggled for months still trying to shoot despite the pain and frustration. Likewise, we sometimes find ourselves writing a project that isn’t a good fit or that isn’t working. Even though we may be 20,000 words in, it may be that the project needs a break or to be scrapped altogether. Sometimes stepping away and coming back with fresh eyes enables us to see things in new ways, but stepping away can be extremely difficult. After I stopped shooting and took a break, I came back and tried compound archery instead of Olympic style. While I was afraid to try something new, the same way we are afraid to start a new writing project, I soon found myself enthralled with beginners joy. Soon after that, I was able to apply all the things I learned as an Olympic archer to this new discipline. As with writing, each piece of writing we do, whether it ever hits the shelves. the pages of a magazine, or someone else’s computer screen, teaches us something about writing that can help us to move on and try something new.
I have a novel I finished before Triple Love Score, called Tarnished. This is a project I let go in order to start something new. I don’t know if I’ll return to it, but I know that I made the right decision moving forward instead of clinging to something that wasn’t able to find a publishing home. Sometimes in an archery tournament, you find yourself unable to get the shot to fire. You just stand there like a statue; that was me with Tarnished. It can be really hard to let the arrow down and start over again, but what result can you expect to have from something that is stuck and breaking down? It is better to start again. Don’t be afraid to let down and recompose yourself. It isn’t failing to do that—it’s learning.
What's Your Bow and Arrow?
While I don’t think all of you are going to rush out and try archery as a way of making your writing better (though I really recommend it), I do recommend looking at the other things in your life that you enjoy or are successful at. How did that happen? How can you build those elements into your writing practice to get where you want to go as a writer? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
Brandi Megan Granett (formerly Scollins-Mantha) is the author the newly released TRIPLE LOVE SCORE (Wyatt-Maczenie, September 1, 2016), MY INTENDED (Eagle Brook/Morrow, 2000), and CARS AND OTHER THINGS THAT GET AROUND (2014). She earned her Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University, Wales, and her MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Stockton, NJ, with her husband and daughter. When she is not writing or teaching or mothering, she is honing her Olympic archery skills.
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When I think of archery and writing, I think of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. That book and movie are responsible for girls taking up archery.
One of my archery friends, Olympian Khatuna Lorig taught Jennifer Lawrence how to shoot for the movie!
This was a fantastic essay. While I am not an archer, a character in two of my novels learned archery and she became hooked.
Jacqueline--what are they? I'd love to read about archery!
Great post, Brandi! I love the "thoughts are things."
And I agree that there are valuable lessons for each of us in the various things in our lives. For me, it's from climbing. I've been watching my child climb since he was 7. Last year he challenged me to give it a try. The whole idea was incredibly intimidating (I could picture myself going up, but the coming down part freaked me out; not to mention the idea that my fluffy butt would be wagging up high for everyone to see). It took some time, but I finally gave it a shot.
The moment I stopped worrying about what everyone around me was doing, was the moment I realized how much fun it is. So the woman with 20-ish years on me is climbing 4 grades above what I'm doing. So what if the 20-something looks amazing in those tights and out-climbing everyone in the gym. Each time I get on the wall, I'm competing against myself - and the wall - not against those other people. One hold at a time until I get to the top.
With writing, I'm not competing against the other writers out there. So what if people around me are writing faster, getting multi-book contracts, etc, etc. All I can do is write the best damn book I can write, my process, my pace. One chapter at a time until I have a finished manuscript.
I needed your comment today, Orly. Thanks for writing it!
Orly: "With writing, I’m not competing against the other writers out there. So what if people around me are writing faster, getting multi-book contracts, etc, etc. All I can do is write the best damn book I can write, my process, my pace. One chapter at a time until I have a finished manuscript."
It's like that with archery, too! It doesn't matter how the other person is shooting; you can't control what they do. You only get to do YOU.
I think it's interesting that we can cut ourselves more slack when it comes to sports (archery for you, climbing for me) or whatever else we do than when it comes to writing.
I agree, Orly. I'm like that with Crossfit and working out. I'm always happy just to be doing it. Why can't I get that Zen with writing?
I actually took archery classes last year as research for my WIP, so it's neat to read another writer draw comparisons to the sport and our craft. And I agree - archery isn't easy to learn! It took me several weeks to get the hang of things, remember each step, and figure out how to consistently shoot well. Thanks for sharing this!
I love that you gave archery a try! It has given me so much!
I don't only one writing project I set aside, I have many. I have finished three of them lately and they are all available on Amazon. Thank you for your thoughts and your inspiration.
You are welcome!
It is amazing what other disciplines can teach you about writing. At age 62 I took up hunter/jumper lessons after being away from it for, oh, 45 years. Gentle hands, don't hurry it, relax and enjoy. Exhilaration when the hurdle is crossed. Don't worry about that wobbly top rail. Keep going. Thanks for a thoughtful post!
Barb--what excellent advice: Gentle hands, don’t hurry it, relax and enjoy. Exhilaration when the hurdle is crossed!!
That's wonderful, Barb! It sounds like you're having a grand time. 🙂
Oh, Barb!!!! The thing with horses is that they also teach you to be in the NOW. If you're fretting about something else, they feel it through your body and they'll react accordingly. That lesson translated to writing is to remove distractions. When you're on a horse, you don't think about anything but what you and your mount are doing. When you're writing, you're not thinking about laundry or car pool or what that jerk at the gas station said -- unless, of course, you're writing those into the story. 🙂
In junior high PE we had a six-week archery class. Uncoordinated as I was, I knew I might be able to do well enough to pull my grade up. My dad took me to an archery place, much like a bowling alley. I loved it. Of course I used their bows, and they were nothing like the fancy one in your photo, but I felt like I was in Sherwood Forest every time I picked it up.
What a lovely post. I love it.
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