Monday, April 20, 2015

The 100-Jumpshot Writing Method

A grey night and wet driveway, but warm enough for shorts and short sleeves. After the winter we’ve suffered, I’ll take it and just came in from shooting baskets. I am an overweight, middle-aged man, a fair ball player in love with the game. No matter the day I’ve had, if someone suggests a game I say, let’s go. After dinner I shoot one hundred jumpshots, counting them as I go. Layups don’t count, though I do them too. I don’t count how many I make, just the number I take. That’s what matters. 

One hundred jumpers a night trains my body to remember the motion and my mind to stop thinking. After a few weeks of one hundred-jumper nights I feel like a ball player. Let’s go. 

None of this prepares me for NBA superstardom. I’m just shooting. It may help me get in shape, but that’s not the design. I’m working on my shot. Practicing the motion. Forced to guess, I might have made almost half my shots tonight. By May I’ll average better than that. The trend is upward because I take so many shots night after night. 

My theory of writing is similar. I’m an overweight, middle-aged man, a fair writer in love with filling the page. No matter the day I’ve had, if an idea suggests itself I say, let’s go. Thirty eight shots in tonight, I connected shooting jumpers and daily writing practice. For the next sixty-two shots I wrote while shooting, hearing the piece build in my head shot by shot. 

Each morning I write three Morning Pages long-hand as advised by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I take jump shots, forming letters, words, and paragraphs page by page. I’ve done this every morning for almost a year and my body remembers the motion while my mind has learned to stop thinking. It has not led to stardom as a writer, but I feel like a writer and am always ready to get in the game. 

I teach this method to kids. Every class we take ten to twenty minutes to get in the habit of letting the pen generate ideas. Too many students (and adults) believe ideas exist fully-formed in our minds and are then dictated to the page. The one hundred-jumpshot method says otherwise. This piece began as an idea on the court, but it has grown in the typing and revising as I took shot after shot at the keyboard. 

I took sixteen extra shots tonight. Once I get to one hundred I can quit or keep going, depending on how I feel. Each day I write three Morning Pages, but tonight, I’ve generated almost 1,500 more words (which I’ve cut by a third in revision) because my brain had an idea and practice made it easy to say, let’s go. Students can develop the same habits of mind and body if given the task of taking a hundred shots without worrying how many they make or miss. Shoot, shoot, and keep shooting. Write, write, and keep writing.  

In this way we grow to feel that no matter what we can always write on.