Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Be An Olympic Writer

The Olympics are long gone, which is a very good thing for my writing. The nights of endless gymnastics, swimming, beach volleyball, diving, and track may or may not have affected my daily word count (okay, it totally did), but at least a few sports failed to suck me in (I'm looking at you, fencing and water polo). However, there was an upshot to the abnormal amount of time I spent in front of my television--I found tremendous inspiration in every athlete out there. I also noticed similarities between what it takes to be an Olympian and an Olympic writer:

1) Train. Those athletes didn't make it to the Olympics by saying, "I know I have it in me to be an Olympian," and then find excuses about how they didn't have enough time, money, etc. to put in the hours. Using Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours rule (if you haven't read Outliers, you should), these athletes have logged well over 10K hours in training. Michael Phelps should have gills from how much time he's spent underwater. How does an Olympic writer train? Certainly not by saying they know they "have a book in them...someday." They write. Then they write some more. Then what do they do? You get the idea.

2) Be persistent. Not every athlete qualifies for the Olympics on their first try. Those that make it to the Olympics don't always get gold--or medal at all--their first time there. I don't think that's a bad thing, as it can be a powerful motivator. Track star, Allyson Felix, took the silver in the 200m in Beijing. From 2008 until the 2012 Games in London, she trained her ass off and focused on being the very best she could be...and got her gold. Most athletes don't medal, but at least they knew they did the best they could do and were good enough to get to the Olympics. The lesson for writers? Never give up. Keep trying and get better. If your first book doesn't land you an agent or a book deal, keep trying. If you self-publish and the book doesn't sell well, keep trying. Go back to step 1) and push yourself to be the best writer you can be.

3) Hope for a little luck. Yep, even in the Olympic, sometimes winning a medal involves a bit of luck and good timing. I watched a noted BMX racer (yes, I watched BMX too--I told you I watched a lot o' Olympics) go down because of a crash in front of him. One swimmer might hit the touch pad a bit harder than another and get the faster time. Everyone has times when they feel they are "in the groove" and other times when things don't go their way. With the Olympics, athletes have only that one moment, and they better hope they are in the groove. Though not as intense, there is timing and luck involved with publishing too. Even publishers can't always predict which books will be a hit. Sometimes it takes hitting the right publisher, or the right audience, with the right idea at the right time. You don't have control over this, but you do have control over steps 1), 2), and 4), which makes this step more likely to fall into place.

4) Be a good sport. Whether an athlete won gold, bronze, or even nothing at all, most of them carried themselves with grace, poise and humility. Oscar Pitorius, the double amputee track star from South Africa, didn't medal but stood out as an Olympic hero. McKayla Maroney demonstrated great humor over the attention she's received regarding her obvious disappointment at winning silver in the vault. If you haven't checked out the McKayla is Not Impressed page, it's cute (my fave pic is the one of her in the scene at the art museum in Ferris Bueller's Day Off). The lesson for writers? Whether you're a New York Times bestseller, or an aspiring writer trying to get out of the slushpile, treat others with respect and kindness. It doesn't cost anything to be a decent human being, plus I'm a big believer in karma, kismet, and various other k words.

Those are the things that jumped out at me, so I hope you can use those to go forth and become Olympic writers. Did you notice other similarities? Anyone else watch as much Olympics as I did? More importantly, did anyone out there watch water polo?

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