Up until about ten years ago, I didn’t watch the Olympics much. So why the change of heart? I believe it’s got something to do with that roughly being the time I started to write. I even went to the London 2012 Olympics and loved every minute of our day, cheering on athletes. So as a desk-bound author, how can I relate to the super-active Olympians?
Training – I read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours to really acquire and excel at a skill, whether that be writing novel, playing the piano or swimming 100 metres as fast as you can. And I believe that is true. I still have a lot to learn but I added up my hours dedicated to writing once – over the last decade – and it was heading for that big number. So when I watch those athletes, I don’t just see sportsmen and women, I see ordinary people who’ve been training for years; who started out a ground zero, like I did with my writing; who probably – just like me – have wept and despaired many a time over failures such as rejection or not hitting goals. Who have had to learnt to face and deal with setbacks. And who, equally, have enjoyed moments of unadulterated joy.
Passion – you can see it in the Olympians’ eyes. And let’s face it, becoming a top athlete is not a job, it’s a lifestyle and I can relate to that. Writing takes over much of my mind, from the moment I wake to last thing at night when I am plotting books or fleshing out characters. I’ve put in the hours. I’ve put myself out there in competitions and by submitting my work. I’ve failed but tried again harder. Finally I’ve found a degree of success and now I work hard to consolidate that and meet the next challenge. I wouldn’t still be here, at my desk, without a burning passion for words. And that passion has got me through the hard times, just like it does for a an Olympian who may fall of his bicycle on the last lap or just miss out on winning Gold.
Luck – in my opinion there is a significant element of this involved in succeeding with a career. Your writing can be exquisite but may never reach a wide audience if you don’t find that one editor to believe in it, or if your story is given a misjudged price or poor cover. And I feel it’s exactly the same with excelling in a sport. You could be in your prime just before a major event and then sustain an injury. Or, one year, could just be up against some exceptionally strong competitors. I believe that talent and dedication alone aren’t enough – they also that little, mysterious ingredient called magic.
Of course, there are dissimilarities. An Olympian needs to have full control of their emotions, especially when actually competing. Whereas writers are sensitive, emotional creatures who probably improve their work by fully indulging their feelings. Unless we’re talking steady rejections or bad reviews. If possible, at those moments, you need to call on your logic and keep a grounded perspective.
And as for the diet, ahem, well, I don’t think a sports person would get very far if they consumed my daily, writerly intake! We’re talking crisps at the keyboard, cake and biscuits, and of course the odd glass of wine. Also, I have to *research* food for my writing, naturally, like scones and fish n’chips for my new summer release, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun! In all seriousness, though, the really important consumption for an author is to read widely and observe people – to soak up the inspiration, not soak with perspiration.
So if you switch on the Rio Games, let those athletes motivate your writing. They are proof that with a determined attitude, solid work ethic and a little bit of luck, ANYTHING is achievable.