What Olympians and Writers Have in Common

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Olympians and writers

I’ve written before about why I am an avid Olympics watcher. Basically it’s because I’m enthralled by the stories of the athletes and the Games themselves. As a writer, I appreciate the trials and tribulations, plot twists, and history that go hand in hand with the Games. It all combines to make a magnificent story that, for two weeks every two years, I cannot put down.

But I also love the Olympics because I believe that Olympians and writers have a lot in common. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. Olympic athletes are paragons of athletic ability and the very definition of being “in shape.” We writers? Not so much. Oh, sure, many of us participate in sports and go to the gym. But the vast majority of us are sloths when compared to Olympic athletes. (We might win if they ever make typing an Olympic sport, but I don’t see that happening.)

It’s not our bodies that make us writers similar to Olympians, it’s our minds. Olympians and writers both (generally) share incredibly strong minds and wills. We have to. Writing isn’t a field for those who give up easily or who are not willing to put in hours of grinding practice in order to succeed. If you aren’t mentally tough, you aren’t going to make it as a writer. But it goes beyond mental strength. It’s a general attitude toward life and our work that makes us similar to Olympians.

Think I’m talking nonsense? Think about the following.

Olympians and Writers….

…Spend decades chasing a dream that most people consider impossible, if not outright silly.

To most people (people who are not writers), our dreams seem a little silly and impossible. We hear, “Write a book? Bah. Get a real job.” Or, “You’ll never succeed at that. Getting published is impossible!” Yet we persevere. Most of bang away at our keyboards for years before big things happen. All the while we hear how crazy we are, how unlikely we are to succeed, and how much better off we’d be if we did something else. Olympians hear all of that, too, and compete despite the negativity.

…Toil in isolation with only a trusted few for company.

Most writers work alone with only a few trusted mentors and friends to encourage us along. Like an Olympian who only has her coach and maybe a few helpful teammates or mentors, writers get the job done without a lot of support and encouragement. Day in and day out, there are no screaming fans propelling you to greatness, only you practicing to be better than yesterday.

…Fail and get up again, fail and get up again.

Olympians and writers fail early and often. Whether it’s falling in competition or sending out 500 queries without a single nibble, we all know what it feels like to fail and what it takes to get up and do it again. And again. We know that staying down isn’t an option. Getting up and trying again is the only way to get better and achieve our dreams.

…Do all of this while working multiple jobs.

The writers and Olympians who can do what they do without another source of income are few and far between. Yes, there are those writers who make millions, just like there are Olympians who make boatloads in endorsement money. (And let’s not talk about “professional” athletes who bring their millions to the once “amateur” Olympics.) But most of us are writing and training while working another job. (Or more than one.) We cram training and writing in between shifts at Big Corporate or Crappy Retail. We make room in our lives for this crazy dream, even if it means less sleep or free time.

…Don’t let extraneous stuff (even serious stuff) get in the way of what we want to do.

How many times do you hear a story about an athlete who has a serious medical condition who pursues their sport anyway? How many times do you hear about athletes who train and compete through family trials, personal struggles, political strife, and life stories that would make most of us crawl under the bed and never come out? All the time. And yet they do what they do because they love it and can’t imagine not doing it. Writers tend to be the same way. We write through all kinds of craziness. In fact, when the rest of our worlds are crashing down around us, writing is often the only thing we can trust to always be there. Giving it up, no matter the obstacle, is not an option.

..Say, “I can” when everyone else says, “You can’t.”

This is self-explanatory. Olympians and writers are often the only ones who believe in themselves. When families, coaches, mentors, federations, are all saying, “You can’t do this,” we are the only ones still saying, “Yes I can.”

…Pursue their dream against all odds.

Lack of money? No problem. I can get another job.

Lack of time? No problem. I can squeeze out fifteen minutes this morning.

Lack of support? No problem. I don’t care what you think. I’ll go it alone.

Lack of success? No problem. My next work will be better.

Lack of knowledge? No problem. I can learn what I don’t know.

Lack of… Yeah, yeah. Whatever it is, I can get past it. No problem.

….Know that sometimes the dark horse wins. (And that’s why you stay in the race. Because weird things happen.)

The beauty of sports is that (in most cases, let’s not talk about judged sports) the winner is the best performer on the day. Fastest time, first over the line, furthest throw wins. That means that even the back-of-the-packers are in with a chance, if even a small one. Everyone knows that today could be their day. Writing is no different. Sure, the bestsellers are expected to do their thing, but books come out of nowhere to “win” too. Sometimes that self-published author rockets to stardom, or that “little” book deemed unimportant by the publisher starts the new trend and captures public adoration. Every writer knows this and it’s why we stay in the race. We all know that sometimes the dark horse wins and it could be us, but you can’t win if you aren’t in the race.

…Know that success isn’t always determined by “winning.”

For a writer, the ultimate goal is usually a NTY Bestseller, possibly a Pulitzer, or a book that becomes a hit movie. But all writers know that those things are as elusive as Olympic gold medals. Sometimes it’s not about the medal but about doing the best that you can. Sometimes success comes in the form of a personal best, that next book that sells better than the last or garners more critical acclaim. Success might simply be finally getting an agent, or landing a traditional publisher. Olympians and writers know that winning is great, but not everyone is going to land on the podium. Most of us know the value of simply participating in the race.

(The one thing that writers have over Olympians is that we don’t have to wait four years to try again. Every new book or story is a chance to enter the race and try for that personal best or podium finish. We don’t wake up the morning after a failure and wonder how we’re going to manage to give a crap for another four years. We just get going.)

I’m sure there are other ways that Olympians and writers are similar, but these are the ones that come most readily to me. The point is that even if your best event is the Starbucks table slalom where you slip in front of three competitors to grab the last table on which to plop your laptop, you have much more in common with elite athletes than you might think.

Use that knowledge to give yourself power and motivation. We may never carry our nation’s flag into the stadium or stand on a medal podium, but we’re still doing something pretty damn special. And we’re doing it in a world that constantly tells us we can’t or shouldn’t. That takes just as much guts as flinging yourself down a ski jump hill, and don’t you forget it.

(Photo courtesy of diego_torres)

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