Hi everyone! I want to thank Jeff at BookLife for inviting me to take the reins this week at his wonderful, must-read blog. There are few things I love more than blogging about and for writers and writing, so it’s an honor to do so at one of the smartest writing blogs out there.
Anticipating the content of my posts this week has been rather challenging: there’s so much to write about! But it came to me on Saturday as I realized my interest in the Olympics was beginning to wane.
I’d seen all I needed to see of curling, short track speed skating, downhill, bobsled, snowcross and the like. But the Olympics always linger in my mind long after the network has packed up its cameras and talking heads and returned to regularly scheduled programming.
Witnessing (live or on TV) the prowess of the world’s athletes is always inspiring to me. I grew up in a sports household (baseball, basketball, track and field, gymnastics, soccer, football, softball, volleyball, tennis have all been played with regularity by at least one member of my immediate family), so I’m already in the practice of appreciating the work that goes into excelling at sports.
But the world’s finest athletes perform with a caliber and grace that takes human experience beyond what it means to be fit or a sound competitor. These are the titans of the modern day, and like the titans of the past, the masses can’t help but idolize them as the demi-gods they truly are.
This week, I offer the series, “Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics” in three parts. As writers, we have cobbled together our own hopes and dreams for becoming the future titans of the literary world. We have much to learn from athletes, and this Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll give examples that show how writers can learn from the trials of Olympians.
Today I’ll talk about discipline and perseverance.
◊ Say no to say yes.
Every single Olympian had to set aside large chunks of their life in order to prepare for competition, often relocating to train at a facility far from home. They also made the conscious choice to give up certain things, like favorite foods or TV or seeing their family, in order to do so.
Writers have it a little bit better than that: they don’t have to leave behind their entire family for months on end to go to a special facility to write. Granted, writers may take a week off here or there and go on a writing retreat. But they can also opt for a home office or a coffeehouse or the daily commute on the train to achieve their dreams and return to home’s comforts every day.
There are some things writers need to give up in order to have a writing life, though: time and energy. Novels don’t finish themselves, after all. A hockey player may need to skate sprints or block pucks repeatedly for hours; so will a writer need to put her butt in the chair and write as much and as best as she can. Some days, it will come easily; other days, the work will be excruciating. The rule is, for both the athlete and the writer, to keep going. Discipline and focus are the tools that empower folks to say no in order to say yes.
Next week, if you are almost done with a short story first draft, say no to that Oscar party (and set your DVR) so you can say yes to finishing the draft. Got a batch of revisions you need to complete by Friday, but you don’t have time? Make it a priority anyway: cancel the book club you were going to visit midweek to cull time to implement your manuscript’s changes. Get up early to revise your manuscript on your day off. Take your work out in the sun with you, should good weather happen for you this week.
Keep your eyes on the prize and don’t let things that really don’t matter get in the way. You can watch the Oscars later; you can send your reading comments ahead of time to the book group; you can get your work done and enjoy the sun. This is how success happens: by setting priorities, staying focused, and being flexible. It all starts with saying no and meaning it.
◊ Remember that not everyone will appreciate what you do.
I fell in love with curling while watching the 2002 Olympics in Park City. I still love its strategy and precision, the dedicated teamwork, the sport’s intellectual nuances.
No, curling’s athletes may not be rock-solid muscle machines, but they perform with amazing finesse, possess hawk-like vision, and show more dedication to their dreams than many people I know. Still, they get a lot of flak from the press for not appearing to be rock-solid muscle machines.
Why? Because it’s hard to understand curling’s challenges just by watching. You can’t see the benefit of training in their bodies, though it’s there. Badminton, marksmanship, golf, and ping pong are also difficult sports, but they don’t necessarily get the same respect from the viewing audience that skiers and runners and swimmers do.
But curlers and marksmen and ping pong players and golfers and badminton teams don’t really give a hoot about what the audience thinks. To have fans cheering for them is merely the icing on the cake; ultimately, these kinds of athletes are not doing it for the fans, they’re doing it because they have well-tuned skills and want to compete with the best of the best.
This bodes true for writers as well: poets of rhyming verse, experimental prose aficionados, bloggers, folks who bend genre, children’s authors, short story writers, citizen journalists, and many, many others. How many times have you heard a nonwriter say, “Well, I could’ve written that!” Except that they didn’t. Because, really, they can’t. They have no real idea how hard it is to do what these writers do. So writers who vary from the popular, bestselling forms may have to endure a lot of judgment from people who really don’t know better.
It’s not easy to write anything, whether it’s a bestselling novel or popular genre or flash fiction or a villanelle. It’s even hard to write a bad manuscript! But it’s even harder to write well when the culture around you doesn’t truly appreciate your chosen form.
You have to find a way, like the curlers, to slough that off. The way to do that is to hang out with like-minded others, honor the leaders in your chosen form and genre, stay focused on what it is you want to accomplish, study from the masters at every opportunity, and then give it your level best. You may never find a huge fan base for what you write, but just as there are fans for curling, there will be fans for what you have to say as well.
Coming Wednesday: “Expect to earn your medals every time” and “Sometimes you have to ski blind.” See you then!