This could have ended up as one of those Chuck Norris style lists of things that would look great on T-shirts, but there are paragraphs. I could have cornered the market in pool players who write and writers who shoot pool. My retirement plans remain on hold. And without further ado…
1) Almost anyone can play pool or write. I am aware of the many caveats. Just go with it.
2) There is a basic joy for those who write or play in doing it well, and that draws us to continue. A sexy pot or a sweetly turned phrase goes a long way.
3) Both activities have rules governing them. Pool wins here – Scotty was right when he said, “You cannae change the laws of physics, Captain!” And yes, he was talking about pool, and not 3D chess. Language’s rules do change, admittedly at a slow rate. Great stylists can break those rules. But not too often if they want to get away with it, as breaking a rule and looking/being brilliant only works if the rule exists and is followed for a very good reason. What you can do with the white ball has its physical limits, though 99% (stat chosen at random – not factual) of players never get close to discovering what they are. Which I would think is similar to writers and their ability to manipulate language, to be honest. Which is fine, you don’t have to stretch language to its breaking point to use it extremely effectively. Or so I’ve heard.
4) You can do both activities alone, but they are better if shared. Writing is for readers, pool is for competitors. I hear the talk of ‘fun’… well as a 6 year old, I never got the memo.
5) In both activities improvement is rather subjective and hard to assess. What is true of both is when you do improve there is a point at which it is definitively obvious, often first to others, then yourself. Because perversely we don’t want to believe it at first, despite our efforts to do precisely that.
6) Where improvement can be measured it rapidly becomes about mastering certain techniques: in pool this means learning new types of shot and tactics, in writing fiction it means mastering the elements of storytelling, and the arcana of grammar.
7) In both disciplines the writer or player can claim that dutifully learning ‘technique’ may somehow detract from their natural flair for language or the game. I have in the past used that line a LOT, and it is blatantly laziness talking, but so seductive! “No, man, subjecting myself to the rules and expectations of others would totally constrict my own natural form of expression, man, which is fuzzy, like, and goes on and on, man.” That was probably a direct quote of myself at 19. Sorry to have inflicted it on you. Recently I have managed to improve at pool (I eventually noticed), and yes, I am playing with less ‘flair’. i.e. I am not being stupidly aggressive all the time because I can avoid having to rely on ridiculous shots at the outer edge of my ability, and the laws of physics, to continue a run. Instead, I am better able to understand which shots I simply cannot make, and rather than imagining that somehow hitting it hard with a lot of random action on the white will make my unfounded mental image of the shot become reality, I play a safety. And know how to play a safety. The problem is that in the past a couple of reality warping shots did happen, and those occurrences created a gamblers high which I have subsequently wanted to recreate, at the expense of ever winning a match again! Knowing more, having slightly improved control has helped me make better choices, make better pots, and hold for better positions. In terms of writing the same principle holds true I think, knowing more leads to the deployment of words to better effect, with better timing and more economy. Evidently I’m still learning.
8) There is no 8 – I keep missing the blasted 8.
9) Ditto the 9. When I’m playing 9 ball of course. I have no trouble sinking it in games of 8 ball. Shuckinfruckinhazznfrazz.
10) The pool player and the writer are their own worst enemies. The games we play against ourselves in our heads are often much more brutal than those anyone else can offer us. Take a breath and believe in yourself once in a while!