The Happy Writer, Writing Discussion

Lessons from Olympians

I’ve never really be into sports, but whenever the Olympics are on, I’m glued to the TV. The winter games came to town in 2010, and it was an amazing experience.

Leaving aside all the politics and antics (as there are bound to be), what inspires me is the dedication of these athletes to the pursuit of their dreams. Most of them (especially in Canada) are not paid, nor will ever get any major sponsorships or money. I think of the countless hours they’ve spent training and working for something that might never bring them money or fame. How hard they push their bodies to the limits. What they might have sacrificed for the love of their sport?

We may not be be Olympic athletes, but there are still lessons that apply to life and writing.

1. Prepare for the pain

I watched an interview done with cyclist Clara Hughes. Back in May she fractured a vertebrae in her spine, and yet had been racing since then, and still made it to the Olympics, and with a smile she told the interviewer, “You need to mentally prepare for the pain”. Broken back or not, there is always a point when the pain kicks in, but you just have to keep going.

Writing is sometimes like that too. As much as I love it, I often hit a point of fatigue, where I question whether or not there’s any point in continuing a novel, where I may doubt the story has any merit, or where I’m just sick of it, because I’m on my ninth round of edits… Prepare for the pain. The frustration, the fatigue is part of the process. I need to remind myself that I can get through it, its normal, and I can finish.

2. Taking risks pays off

In gymnastics and diving, the degree of difficulty is sometimes the determining factor in winning because it affects all the other scores.

When it comes to writing, are you taking risks and trying things that make you uncomfortable, or are not sure you can accomplish? Sure, things can go horribly wrong, and we can mangle the execution, but getting to the point where we can, to keep striving to do more, is a worthwhile pursuit. It might be the thing that makes the difference between mediocrity and success.

3. No one gets there alone

How many people are responsible for one Olympian’s success? First there are all the parents or family members who have taken their kids to countless early morning or late night practices. There are the coaches, who saw potential and helped develop it. Then there’s usually a whole team involved: physiotherapists, dieticians, doctors…

I think its also good to remember the importance of mentors, whether they take the form of the ‘greats’ (the books you love to read), articles online, or real people with experience. Writing can seem very solitary, but having a good support system can also help get through the worst of the “I’m not good enough’s”.

4. Trust your training

There have been some interesting science clips running during the Olympics. Have you ever wondered how divers can perform those spectacular routines that last only seconds? Short answer: muscle memory. The cerebellum is responsible for muscle memory, and when divers jump, there’s no time to think and they operate almost completely on the cerebellum. If a diver is nervous or distracted, blood flow is directed away from the cerebellum to other parts of the brain, which can cause errors in performance.

There really is something to writing ‘in a state of flow‘ or in that frame of mind where you’re so completely wrapped up in the work that time disappears. I know that for myself, I need to actively work on shutting off the editor brain, and just write the first draft without worrying about the mechanics, and trust that I know them.

5. Heart can make all the difference

It’s not hard to find examples of this: the competitor that wasn’t expected to get near the podium, but did, athletes who suffered debilitating injury but still manage to compete…

This one doesn’t take much explanation. If you truly love what you do, remember your courage, and keep going. You can’t lose if you give it your all.

Happy writing 🙂 I have minor surgery coming up and might not be able to come online for a few weeks, but I’ll be back. XOXO -Theresa

12 Comments

  1. Love love LOVE this post, #2 and #4 especially.

    Also, it’s not just mental fatigue that affects us writers (re: #1). My back and wrists kill me sometimes, despite a number of things I’ve done to be more ergonomic. :/

    Good luck with your surgery!

    1. Oh yeah, sometimes its physical. I really hope there’s not as much physical comfort going forward for you or anyone else. Really need to watch that 🙁 I’m making an effort too but I still ache sometimes.

      Thanks!

  2. Do you think China has squads of coaches and experts surrounding all their budding authors, forcing them to constantly draft and edit, draft and edit?

    Take care of yourself, Theresa! Relieved it’s only a minor surgery.

  3. Trust your training — that’s very true (they’re all true, but that’s the one that struck me particularly). My ex-wife was a drummer, and she applied discipline to learning drums that she’d learned from riding (hunters and jumpers). She practiced a lot — she was very disciplined (particularly for a drummer 🙂 and always conscious of what she was doing well and what needed more work.

    On stage, though, you can’t be thinking about that stuff. You have to go with the flow and perform. When I’m “in the zone” and writing, it’s very much the same. Except that my clothes don’t reek of cigarettes and beer the next morning. 🙂

    Good luck with the surgery. Hurry back.

    1. Oh yes, that is a good corollary. I always mess up on stage when I’m out of the zone. It takes perfect concentration to perform, and you just have to remember that you know what you’re doing. Though, sometimes you end up realizing you don’t really know what you’re doing, but that’s a different problem lol.

  4. Hope everything goes well.

    I must admit, I don’t usually feel like an Olympian when I write… There so many of us aspiring authors that often I feel utterly pedestrian… You know, to extend the metaphor: lots of people swim or play badminton or volleyball and whatnot. Very few make it to the games. Fewer still win Medals.

    So, too, us writers. Lots of us write. Very few get published in any meaningful way. Fewer still win critical acclaim or become best-sellers.

    That’s a downer, I guess. The upper? You don’t need to be an Olympian to love what you do and to keep doing it. We all strive to be at Olympian levels in the things we love, but loving it is enough to keep on even when we fall far short of our Olympian dreams.

    Anyway, it was an inspirational post.

  5. Hi!

    Popping on over from Kristan’s blog — I loved the excerpt of yours that she included and wanted to read the entire post! I agree whole-heartedly with everything you said, especially #1 and #4. As I edit down my MS by 50,000 words (ugh), I am definitely reminded that it’s not always an enjoyable process. But, like you said, it IS always one filled with heart, and that makes it beautiful. 🙂

  6. As an ex-athlete, it does amaze me how much work goes into aspiring for perfection. I pretty much take that same attitude with everything that I do. The work ethic. The desire. You’re right, there’s a lot to learn from the Olympians.

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