What Can Writers Learn From Olympians?

janav Creativity, Writing Leave a Comment

14165527 - swimmer launched into water in a diving competition

I have a confession to make: I’ve been struggling to get up early enough to get my writing time in. Why? I’ve been staying up until midnight to watch the Olympics. Although it’s been tough on my writing, it’s been really inspiring to watch the amazing athleticism on display. It’s fun to root for the favored U.S. athletes, and I also love it when someone from a smaller nation with many fewer training resources comes out of the blue and medals (hello, first swimmer who medaled for Kazakhstan!)

Like 99% of other people, I sit there and say, “I could never do that!” And it’s true, I couldn’t. My father was a gifted athlete; although I take after him in many ways, I lack anything resembling speed, strength, coordination, flexibility…. I work out, and I like challenging myself with increasing strength, number of reps, and so on, but I don’t kid myself how it would stack up to other people, or especially, you know, actual athletes.

To me, the interesting question is: What can I learn as a writer from what those Olympic athletes are doing? When I think about it, there are several skills that are equally essential to develop, whether you’re an athlete or a creative:

Dedication – you have to commit to your writing. Prioritize it. Make sure you show up and do the work, even if you’re not “inspired” that day.

Persistence – Keep writing, even though you’re not getting any external validation. You may go years without getting an agent, or getting published, or finding an audience. Will you give up?

Practice – Real, structured practice. Not just foofling around (yep, that’s my new word). What do you need to work on? Read craft books, write exercises that focus on that. Know that you will never reach perfection, but that sustained practice will get you much closer than you thought possible.

Stamina – I’ve mentioned before that you need energy to write. Sometimes it’s tough. You don’t feel motivated, you’re tired… or you just can’t hang in long enough to get real work done. Start with 5 minutes of writing a day, if you need to. You’ll soon be able to focus and work for longer periods.

Focus – Speaking of focus, you also need to be able to eliminate distractions, whether it’s the lure of other people or the siren call of the web.

Mental toughness – You need to develop the ability to handle rejection (defeat) and get back in the game. A “No” doesn’t mean you totally suck, and your writing sucks, forever and ever. Take your moment to sulk, and then get back to it!

Flexibility – The ability to figure out a way to work differently, if what you’re doing isn’t working. The ability to write in the time you’ve got, not the time you wish you had. And so on.

Teachability/Willingness to Learn – If you take a class, attend a workshop, or get a coach, are you open to what they say? Can you take critique, and use it to improve?

Study the Greats – Read other writers, especially the “greats” of your genre. Study what they do, figure out how they do it. Craft books are often filled with examples related to specific craft elements. Then take what you’ve learned, and do your thing.

Develop Your Skills – As with any sport, there is a specific set of skills you need to develop to be an effective writer. There are craft skills (which vary depend on the kind of writing you do) and also marketplace skills – how you present your work (query/submission letters, networking skills, etc.). Know what these skills are, and what you need to work on.

If all these seem easier said than done, you’re right – if it were easy, everyone would do it. Emulate an Olympian, and go after your dream with everything you’ve got!

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