Thursday, 9 June 2011

Learning from an Olympian

A lovely, long boozy lunch on Sunday at a friend's house. My host happens to have won a Gold Medal at the Olympics for rowing. He doesn't usually talk about it, but this Sunday he told us about the experience.

Throughout the heats the Russians were obviously the leading team - they won everything with plenty to spare. So when it came to the final, my friend's team had nothing to lose and catching up, he explained, was easier than being ahead. They got to the half way point, realised that they were in second place, upped the pace and overtook the Russian team, going on to win by a length. Hooray!

It sounds straightforward, almost easy. Yet he had spent many mornings throughout the winter months for years beforehand practicing his rowing before he got a place on the team. He told me that when you're out there and it's cold and miserable and raining ice water and your body aches, a voice in your head is saying: Why are you doing this? You could be in the warmth, you could be in bed. You don't have to do this. But he kept plugging away, doggedly rowing before going to work. It's in your head, he told us. If you win in your head, you win.

The same as writing? You sit at the keyboard typing away, while a voice in your head tells you it's worthless, you'll never get published, you're just wasting your time, no one will ever want to read it. And yet you keep on. Because writing is what it's about. Writing, and more writing, and more writing. You have to put the hours in with no guarantee of reward.

The voice is quite right: you don't have to do this. But if you win in your head, you will win.

PS An Olympic gold medal is smaller than I expected, and less shiny. But, boy, is it heavy!


Beth Kemp said...

Nice analogy! I'll try to remember I'm trying for a medal next time something else seems more attractive than sitting down to write. Thanks.

Sarah Duncan said...

I think anything would be nicer than rowing on a cold winter's morning, even writing in a cold office. But yes, we're all going for that lovely publication medal.