What MY Skateboarding Days Can Teach YOU About Writing

Skateboard street jump

I used to be one of those long-haired, baggy-pants skateboarding teens, and would spend hours everyday riding my skateboard.

Oh, I’m 34 now, the hair is mostly gone and my clothes are oddly and unflatteringly tight for the most part. I was a good skateboarder, one of those kids that rode by and did a trick lightning-quick and the board seemed almost magically attached to their feet. My skating earned me the respect of the boys my mother really wished I would not hang out with and for a while I was known as Joe Skate. It got to the point that I heard a rumor that I had gone pro and was soon moving to L.A..

I’m not telling you this to brag (well, not JUST to brag) but to make a point. Two points, actually, both of which apply to life in general and writing in particular. There is a third, rather personal one, but we’ll skip that for now.

1. The Thing You Use to Write is Irrelevant


Seriously. Some people use Scrivener, others Word, some use a plain-old typewriter and some paint with their blood on used toilet paper. None of that matters. The only thing that matters is the quality of the writing. My first skateboard was one of those silly thin ones made of plastic that I used to sit on and ride down the driveway in front of my house. My second one was a ridiculously heavy one from the supermarket, cheap as fuck and about as useful as gluing marbles to a plank of wood. But I rode that one until it was splinters, and then I got my first real skateboard, a Ron Allen Life board. It was also really heavy and sort of hard to ride and by that time most of my friends had boards that were lighter and better.

But I was better than they were, even with their fancy boards. You want to know why? I didn’t care about the type of skateboard I was using, I just wanted to skate. They would fret about their boards not being quite the latest model or that they really wish they had that other slightly better model. I just wanted to skate. Riding a heavier board meant that I had to try just a little harder then they did.

By the time I got my next board (and now it was a fancy, top-of-the-line thing) I was skating like the guys in the magazines. The board never mattered, and focusing on the quality of the board just takes the focus away from the real issue: the skating itself.

And how does this relate to writing? When I started writing for real about four years ago, I did it on the computer I’m using now, a reject from work. Focus on the story, not on the gadget you are writing on. You don’t need to postpone writing while you save up for a better computer or that new software. Write on whatever you have now. Worrying about the things you use just gets in the way of the thing you want to use them for.

And you know what… it really doesn’t matter. Only your writing matters.

Hugh MacLeod makes this point far better then I just did, in his excellent post Pillar Management.

2. Practice Makes Perfect


This. Man oh man did skateboarding teach me this life lesson. It’s one thing to hear it and sort-of realize that it makes sense. But to know it, to have lived it is another thing entirely. I rode every one of my skateboards into splinters. I don’t know how many pairs of shoes I ruined (they grate against the sandpaper on top of skateboard). I would skate in the rain and in the cold, windy fall we have here in Iceland.

I remember spending hours rehearsing tricks in the grass by myself. Hours and hours spent by myself improving in what was on the very edge of being an obsession. I subscribed to magazines, watched skateboarding videos (on VHS) in slow motion, admiring the pros with slack-jawed amazement. I would watch every single movie that had anything to do with skateboarding (Gleaming the Cube FTW) and played every skateboarding video game.

All that practice and obsessing resulted in one thing: I became good at it. And this is a certainty that I’ve carried with me ever since; if you practice at something, and I mean really practice, you’ll become good at it.

The Takeaway Lesson

  • You don’t need a new computer so you can finally get started on that novel, whatever you have now is more than fine. Just start, and by doing so you have won half the battle already.
  • Practice. Make the mistakes, scrape your knees and go through a few pairs of shoes. And then practice some more. Write poetry, write flash fiction, submit to magazines and get rejected and then rejected some more. Each time you will learn just a tiny bit more, get slightly better at what you are doing, and your stories will start getting accepted. And soon you’ll be looking back at the others, the ones who don’t practice as much, who wonder why their stuff is getting rejected.

Do it now.