Thursday, January 12, 2017

What Writers Can Learn from Olympic Athletes

by Cynthia Owens @EfficiencyADict

You may be wondering why I’m writing about the Olympics now. Didn’t we just have one of those? And isn’t the next one a couple of years away? Yes, to both of those questions, but something has stayed with me since our last Olympic games. It’s a thought that keeps reverberating in my mind.

What kind of writer would I be if I trained and “performed” like those Olympic athletes?

I pondered this for months, considering the skill it takes to be an Olympian and the magnitude of dedication Olympians have to their craft. Then came the next onslaught of questions. What would it mean for a writer to train and perform like an Olympic athlete? What would it take?

Here are five tips I’ve gleaned from studying the Olympic athletes:
1. It’s a mindset. No one (in their right mind) wakes up one morning and says, “I’m going to be an Olympic gymnast,” then does their first summersaults and expects to be ready to challenge a gold medalist after just a few weeks. Olympians usually start with some raw talent but know, or quickly learn, it will take years of work to become world-class athletes. That doesn’t stop them. They have a goal and will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

  • Writer Training: Have realistic expectations. Understand that when you start, you’ll have a lot to learn. Embrace this process and seek out the best coaches.
2. It’s a lifestyle. Olympic-level athletes design everything around their sport. They rise early to practice, work or go to school, then come back and practice some more. They eat special diets, skip social gatherings for tournaments, and even choose to be home-schooled so more time can be devoted to skills training. They succeed because they build in the time to do the necessary work.

  • Writer Training: It takes time to become a great writer. How are you going to get that time? What in your schedule needs to move, adjust, or disappear so that you can do what is needed to reach your writing goals?
3. There are short-term tests. Olympians compete regularly, not just every four years. There are weekly challenges within their teams, regional tournaments, national competitions, and annual events. Early tests show these athletes how they compare and how they can improve. These trials also provide inspiration for future work.

  • Writer Training: Give yourself writing challenges. Enter your work in contests. See what others are doing. Don’t be afraid or beaten down by the competition. Grow from it. Let it spur you to make your writing stronger.
4. There are long-term goals. No matter how many smaller competitions these athletes win, they never lose sight of their ultimate goal. They want gold. They want to be the best. Olympic athletes enjoy the special moments along the way, but when the next day comes, it’s back to work.

  • Writer Training: Know your goals and stick to them. Don’t get distracted. Winning a writing contest is great but don’t let it become your main focus.
5. They know it’s going to be hard. Olympians may enjoy their sport, but they don’t expect it to be easy. They know it’s going to be a lot of repetitive drills, long practices, and countless failures before they get it right.

  • Writer Training: It’s na├»ve to expect writing to always be fun. Can it be? Absolutely, but it’s also hours, weeks, and years of hard work. Olympians understand this. The sooner we writers embrace this truth, the less frustrated we will be.
What do you think it would take for a writer to train and perform like an Olympian? What “training” elements do you most need to implement for your writing life?


What Olympic athletes can teach writers - @EfficiencyAdicton @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Cynthia Owens is The Efficiency Addict, a technical trainer helping writers, speakers and small business owners work more effectively. She runs, which specializes in computer training, business organization, career development and event coordination.

Connect with Cynthia on Twitter and Pinterest.

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  1. I was thrilled to see your name here today, Cynthia. Your writing never fails to inspire.

    1. Thanks, Cathy! This one has been in my head for a while. Glad Edie let me share it here.

  2. Great analogy, Cynthia. I think many writers and speakers sometimes lose sight of the fact that while their chosen field is fun, it's also hard work. When you throw in the reality that writing often yields little reward beyond personal satisfaction, it makes the process that much more difficult. Thanks for the reminder that nothing of lasting value comes without a lifetime of commitment and self-sacrifice.

  3. You so right that it's a mindset. If you skip writing for a week, it takes 2 weeks to get your head back in the game!

    1. That's true, Patricia. It takes much longer to regroup after a break than if we just committed to doing the steady work.

  4. Thanks for these tips, Cynthia! I love the comparison. Writing a book does feel like the olympics at times. It's a passion, sure -- but that doesn't negate the fact that it requires an immense amount of mental energy and focus to finish a project and grow as a writer.

    Your book sounds amazing. Definitely adding it to my "to read" list.


    1. Thanks, Tessa! Would love to hear your feedback when you get a chance to read it.

  5. I've always thought of writing as a "mental marathon." The more you train, the more you challenge yourself to keep improving.

    Thanks for the encouraging post, Cynthia. Pinned & shared.

  6. A "mental marathon"--I like that. Thanks for pinning and sharing, Linda!