I watch golf for a couple of reasons. I have played golf, and am interested in how the pros swings work and trying to figure out their mindset — in this regard, I would watch competitive chess, or, similarly, I would read the works of award-winning authors.
The other reason is that I play fantasy golf, which might be a bit too much personal information for all of you, but it’s true. This week’s Accenture Match Play Championship is a week off from fantasy golf, but also a chance to participate in a March Madness-style bracket. They should do more of these.*
How is golf like writing? I’m glad you asked.
* I would add, “in my opinion,” but this is my blog, and therefore it is almost all my opinion.
Golf and writing have so much in common I want to sharpen my putter and use it to write my next book. From research to production to holes in one, I’m not certain where to begin.
Let’s start with the course. This is the outline. This is the vague how to get from Point A to Point B. But this doesn’t have a climax in it. It has ups and downs and hazards, but no life of its own.
The corollary here is research. It’s probably not obvious, but one of the biggest reasons new golfers have wildly ranging scores is because their swings are still forming. I’ve watched my 6-iron go from 140 yards to 180 yards (at my peak) and slide again with disuse. I don’t always know which club to use.
Pros do. They know exactly how far back to swing their pitching wedge to get precisely 48 yards with some backspin. The really good ones do, at least. And they walk and play the course, learning where that first ball has to land to give the maximum effect for the second. What are the levels in the greens so the ball, if it rolls, will roll the right way.
Research. A huge component of every book. Preparing characterization beforehand will save hours of rewriting later. Creating a full, cohesive world.
But in everything I’ve written, despite the preparation, something has come up part way through. A throwaway character who becomes less than throwaway. A concept that grows much larger. A planned battle that would make far more sense for the heroes to lose than win.
In golf, those are the hazards — water, bunkers, trees, and I’m going to add in the weather, which vastly affects play. A hazard can add two strokes, and it’s not always predictable. If I stray from my outline, I might end up in a the trees, and that may prove OK (see most of Tiger Woods’ most impressive shots), or not (see various Dustin Johnson meltdowns).
Like in golf, an outline will only take you so far before something will occur to throw you off it. But then, golf is divided into holes. I’d say that books are divided into chapters, but I don’t think that’s the best use of this division. I think golf’s holes, and the various subsets of those (par 3s, 4s and 5s; the front nine and back nine) are story arcs. Some are short, some are long, some come to a conclusion early. Some are particularly climactic (extra holes), some are surprisingly exciting but short (holing out for an eagle, a hole in one, the very rare albatross).
And in the end, you’re shooting for par on the course. I am, in any case. Pros are shooting for way better than that. But because of golf, “par for the course” in an expression that means “normal.” So, like pro golfers, in terms of the entire book, we’re shooting for 24-under-par and the trophy.
I think I could go on longer, but I think you’re seeing too much about how much I love golf as a game by itself, and learning that I would probably watch it anyway.