The Writer’s Challenge: Give it All


Relaxed, Happy, Confident Snowboarder

I’ve been caught up in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics this week. Last night, one of the featured stories was Shaun White, the amazing half-pipe snowboarder. What stands out to me is his joie de vivre, his joy in his sport and in his life. That outrageous long, red hair, his infectious smile, the casual plaid of the US snowboarding team — Wow!

And then, he dropped into the half-pipe for his first run. Snowboarders must do one pass without any tricks, just a plain jump to show they are in control. White’s plain jump was this slow, tremendous leap toward the starry night, then he hung there weightless for a moment before dropping back into the half-pipe for the tricks his fans were looking for. But it’s that plain jump that held me: the sheer height of it, the reach beyond the grasp of the other boarders.

Then, when he’d already won the Gold Medal on the basis of his first run, he had a chance for a second run, a sort of victory lap. His coach told him to do whatever tricks he wanted. He joked, “Maybe just a run straight down the middle.”

No. White did the run he had planned, including his special “Sean Snake” or “Big Mac” or “the double MacTwist 1260” or the “Tomahawk” (as White dubbed it, after a steak he’d eaten in Vancouver): it’s an impossibly difficult trick, in which the boarder flies over the half-pipe and flips head over heels twice, while packing 3 spins sideways into that jump. Wow. On a give-away, a victory lap, he gave it his all. And bested his own score by two points.

Elmore Leonard on One Million Words

It reminds me of my friend, BB. He’s been writing about four or five years now and just sent me a couple new chapters for review this week and I was blown away. BB is an Elmore Leonard fan (to the utmost!) and BB tells me that Leonard said you must write a million words before you find out what you want to write and how you want to write it.

Well, this time BB’s writing was confident, strong – like Sean White was last night. BB is finally saying what he wants to say and saying it how he wants to say it. Wow!

Hold Nothing Back reminds me of Annie Dillard’s essay, “The Stunt Pilot,” in her book, The Writing Life. She begins her book of journal entries about writing like this:

When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a wood-carver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you found the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or at this time next year.

(I’ve forgotten how much I like this book, her writing.)
But for me, it’s the last chapter that shines. Dillard take a ride in a small plane with stunt pilot Dave Rahm. She writes a glorious description of his skill in flying through the sky with twists, turns, barrel rolls, owning the sky. The one thing I remember the most, though, is her assessment of Rahm’s skills as a pilot: he’s good only because he holds back nothing. He gives it all.

Dillard suggest that great writing comes from the same joy and willingness to give it all: Hold nothing back, she says. Not that special turn of phrase, not that emotional commitment, nothing. Give it all. And trust that the next time you need something special, it will be there.

Sean White, my friend BB, Dave Hahm, Annie Dillard – they give it all in the service of what they love. And it’s a joy to watch them fly.

The Writer’s Challenge: Can I do the same?
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
Really. I don’t know.
All I know is that I want to get up every morning and challenge myself: Give it all.