The 2012 Olympics start today with soccer games. The official start and opening ceremonies are Friday, July 27, 7:30pm on NBC and other stations. (You can get an app for your iPhone or iPad to watch thousands of hours of coverage.) The games are a favorite of mine. Every two years, I sit glued to the TV in awe of these uber athletes and marvel at their years of dedication to their sport. They train hours habitually. They have to be chosen to participate in the Olympics by a committee, event personnel or by excelling via timed trials. Those steps to qualify to compete in the Olympics are certainly the bulk of the experiences necessary to be considered an Olympian. In addition to being a runner, swimmer, pole vaulter, skier, skater or gymnast, once chosen, thereafter you are always known as an Olympian. As such, you have status granted to few no matter what place you finished. Winning any medal is considered generally to be unobtainable for most of the Olympians. Participating is the real prize.
The parallels of athletes to writers seem to belong together like snow in North Dakota in December. We all can mentally visualize what an athlete of Olympic caliber goes through. The hours of usually solo training demanding concentration, learning, practice and education are immense. So too is a writer who has his book published. We are “Olympians of literature” says Sarah Allen, British blogger (sarahwithjoy.com).
1 1. Athletes study the correct way to exact the perfect performance. Writers take classes and read books on how to accomplish their craft.
2 2. It takes years of practice and honing skills to be even considered for trials for the Olympics. The same holds true for writers. A writer never submits his first draft. Each person needs to hone his skills through trial, error and repetition of skills gained in order to succeed.
3 3. Athletes and writers experience rejection and even in some instances consider themselves failures while training/writing and entering competitions.
4 4. There are no short cuts in either endeavor.
5 5. The swimmer logs hours daily in the pool, a skier on the slopes or a diver on the high board. The writers logs hours a day seated in a chair. All are alone in their attempts at success.
6 6. The athlete turns to others for critique while authors are subject to the whims of editors. Both are wise to accept suggestions offered to them.
7 7. Both sets of people need strong, dedicated hearts and persistence.
8 8. Many experience second, or third place; all know the anguish of finishing last.
Obviously there are differences too:
1. Writing is a controlled environment. It is always a comfortable temperature with a bathroom near by. Not so in most sports. The snow is cold, the tennis court hot, the wind is blowing, the start of the race is delayed, the rain is falling, all affecting the athletes’ performances.
2. A writer does not get hurt physically. An athlete may spend months or years healing from surgeries or injuries sometimes caused by errors of others.
3. Writing has rules like sports but it has a soft criteria for “perfection,” for a “10.” A best seller is a “10” in my scoring; a place on the NYT best list of the week is also a ten. Winning a local or state writing contest also qualifies. But is my written piece perfect? There is no specific criteria for perfection in writing unlike pole vaulting, high jump or a swim race.
“The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat,” said Jim McKay on ABC Sports. But, is that true? To me the biggest correlations between athletes and writers are that if you write only so you can be published, you will be disappointed. If you train in your sport to only win a gold medal once in four years, you will be disappointed. In writing as in sports, success is defined by you. If you write and are happy with your results, you have a “10.” If you learn your sport whether to compete or enjoy the activity, you have scored a “ten." We are all winners.
As for me, I will not be writing during the last week of July and the first week of August. I will be glued to my TV watching others strive for perfection and podium status. I will appreciate all those athletes who don’t medal but have risen high enough in their sport to qualify at such an exalted level of competition. I will never win a Nobel prize for literature, I probably won’t have a book reach the NYT best seller list but I will have the joy in my accomplishments when I finish editing a draft for the tenth time and say, “This is good” even if I never submit the piece of writing. But I will turn handstands.