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Monday, December 26, 2011

Chess and Writing: They are Very Similar

I relate everything to chess; I always have. Those of you as obsessed with the game as I am understand such an oddity. Bobby Fischer once said, “Chess is life,” and while that may sound insane to someone who isn’t addicted to the game, it sounds perfectly clear to me; in fact, it sounds reasonable. I suppose that’s a tad scary, but we’ll leave that dog lie for another blog post.

Lately, I have noticed a strong correlation between chess and writing, especially when it comes to fiction. I do write articles and other web content, but fiction is my passion as well as, of course, chess. The two seem to walk hand-in-hand like lovers on a moonlit beach. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

In a chess game, we can make quick and ‘obvious’ moves that may or may not be blunders, may or may not better our position, and may or may not be winning or losing. They are just moves that bounce out of the board to us immediately. Many times, we act on our first-sight moves in blitz, or rapid, chess. That is why it isn’t good to play blitz exclusively; we’ll ever learn much or improve if we always make the first move that jumps out at us. That’s a fact.

It’s much the same with writing. The first draft of our stories can be related to blitz chess: there are glaring errors, it isn’t organized well, people in the story do things that are way out of character, etcetera. Ernest Hemmingway literally said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I have always liked and respected that sentence. It’s so simple, and yet says so much – like a good chess move.

As a general rule, we get better at something the more we learn about and practice it; chess and writing are no different. However, in order to learn about them, to really learn about them, we have to put in the work. Chess requires many hours of hard study and play if you wish to be competitive, and writing requires hard-core, honest editing and rewriting if you want the story to be excellent, and not just good. A good story is easy to tell, but an excellent one takes work. That’s just the way it is.

What if, in a chess game that we lost, we were able to slowly review each move we made and change any and all moves that we wished? Well, we would win a lot of games, wouldn’t we? So, why not completely review and then rewrite a story that you’ve written? It can only be beneficial, both to you and the reader. Chess and writing are not things that should be cheapened. They are arts in their own right, and should be treated as such.

In the past, I had only heavily edited stories, not rewritten them completely. However, my most recent piece felt disjointed and scattered, like trying to find Waldo in a crowd. Characters were acting in ways they would not, some of the settings weren’t at all what I wanted, and I didn’t shape the personalities and relationships of the people well enough. Oh, sure, it was still a good story, I think, but it wasn’t great. If I’m going to put the time and effort forth to write a tale, I want it to be great, not good.

So, I embarked in a total rewrite. I first made a chronological timeline of events as they should happen, I made character sketches, and I wrote down small reminders of things that I wanted to strengthen or that I had missed completely, and then I opened a blank document. The second time around is a ton more fun than the first, I’m finding. Not only do I get to visit all my characters again, but in a much more personal, real way. I’m doing them justice. The writing is stronger. The flow is nicer. The story itself is much more believable and the ending will be far more intense.

Blitz chess is shit, and first drafts are shit. If you are a chess player or a writer, do yourself a favor and put a little time into your passion; you won’t believe the rewards.

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