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Did you smile when a host of Mary Poppinses floated down from the ceiling during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics? The Games have writing tips to teach us as well…
My summer sport is walking – not a competitive event, at least not the way I do it! I swim rarely and only for pleasure, not exercise. I canoe a bit more often, also for fun.
But when the Olympics opened last week, I briefly cast my mind to the similarities between writing and being an athlete in the Games. Requiring focus? Tick. Demanding determination? Tick. Calling on participants to be faster, better? Tick! Here are five techniques athletes employ that I also call writing tips….
1) Train daily. While you’ll likely find athletes in a gym working weights, as well as relentlessly practicing their chosen sport, you’re more likely to catch a writer at his or her desk, staring at a blank computer screen until beads of blood form on the forehead. (Thanks, Gene Fowler, for that line!)
Here’s the thing: Few people are able to produce stellar sentences and compelling copy just by sitting in front of a keyboard. Writing requires plenty of preparation, commitment and a sturdy willingness to rewrite. (I present a guide to the entire process in my book, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better.) I’m regularly amazed by the people who tell me they want to write a book but yet have no plan how to do it. Without a plan, it will never happen! No one wins a gold medal simply by showing up.
2) Learn from others who do the same thing. Interview athletes and they will almost certainly mention another athlete, in the same sport who has inspired them. Did you know that the very best writers in the world offer their advice for absolutely no charge? Yes! Go to the library and take out a book from a writer you admire. (In next week’s column, I’ll give you a guide for how to analyze that book.)
3) Compete with yourself rather than others. A little competition is fun. A lot of competition is often nasty. The best athletes recognize that while training is essential, there’s also an element of luck to winning medals. As a writer, don’t become so focused on winning a prize, landing a book deal or getting a contract that you become the Donald Trump of writing. Smart writers know that the only sensible competition is against themselves. Try to become a little bit better each time you write. By staying calm and generous toward others you’ll allow your writing spirit to work with much more ease.
4) Don’t dwell on setbacks. Remember the story of rower Silken Laumenn? Ten weeks before the 1992 Olympic games she had her right leg shattered in a horrific rowing accident and was told she might never row again. But after five surgeries and 27 days of rehab she climbed back in her shell and started training again. She won the bronze medal. Writers aren’t likely to have their legs broken on the job, but the cuts to the heart can be just as hurtful: A rejection letter from an important magazine. A harsh word from a boss. A cutting comment from a colleague. All these setbacks can cause a writer’s spirits to plummet. Remember Silken Laumenn and trust that you can fight back as well.
5) When you’re ready, find a coach. All Olympic athletes have coaches – people who want to take themselves to a senior level of competition, require knowledgeable advice and another pair of eyes. Perhaps you’re not yet at this stage of writing, but in the meantime, you can and should share your work with a limited number of knowledgeable colleagues and ask for their advice. Don’t ask them if it’s any “good” — instead, ask for specific words or sentences you could tweak and improve.
When you’re ready for coaching, I’m ready for you. I am now booking for September appointments. Please note you must book before August 4 to qualify for the current rates which will rise after that date.
Photo courtesy e-basak, Flickr Creative Commons
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Posted July 31st, 2012 in Power Writing