“It is often described as a marathon. But a marathon is far too short. It’s more like the Tour de France,” said author Pam Newton, kicking off the first of the day’s many sporting metaphors to explain the writing process.
Had this been a sporting event, play would have been suspended due to the soggy conditions outside. But sport it was not. Inside the Sydney Dance Company headquarters at Walsh Bay, a panel of writers discussed whether the qualities of elite athletes, such as goal setting, agility, patience, commitment and overcoming adversity, were similar to that of a good writer.
On the panel were Malcolm Knox, Michael Robotham, Melissa Lucashenko. P.M. (Pam) Newton led the discussion. It began with the panellists recounting their own sporting experiences, which varied from karate championships to schoolboy cricketer-cum-baggy-green hopeful and an amateur surfer. Their personal sports stories were wide ranging, but they had their passion for writing in common.
“When writing you don’t respond to someone dropping in on you, like you would when surfing,” joked Malcolm. “Likewise, when you mess up a keystroke, you don’t throw your laptop like you might a golf club. The common ground between athletes and writers is the pursuit of performance, and the emotion towards getting it right.”
Michael said just like in sport, daily practice is important. “I have to write everyday, otherwise it’s too hard to come back to. It’s similar to the discipline that elite athletes have for their training.”
He also pointed out some dramatic similarities: “Looking at writing, there are several subplots. When you look at the sports pages in the paper, all of those things are in there: divorce, feuds between players, people being sacked. Sport is all about conflict; someone winning and someone losing, and all storytelling involves similar things.”
Melissa agreed: “When writing fiction you have to think who is your hero? What do they want? And, what is stopping them?” She said her writing “coaches” are all dead. “They are authors who have inspired me, made me cry, made me envious through their expression, people like Peter Carey and Banjo Patterson.”