After enjoying the first few weekends of college and NFL football (Roll Tide Roll, and Go Cowboys!), I’ve come to the conclusion that writing success can be compared to athletic success. Writing is, in fact, a lot like football.
You win some. You lose some. Despite how much I might want it as a fan, my teams do not win every game. In fact, most “normal” season are comprised of some blowout wins and close losses. Very rarely do we see undefeated season. The same can be said of writing endeavors. You don’t “hit it out of the ballpark” every time you come up to bat (sorry, I know that was a baseball reference; but it worked well). On some days of the writing journey, you will receive an acceptance from an editor; on others, you will get a rejection. Some of the sentences you write will be almost perfect; others will take a lot of work. It–like football–is a process that involves both failure and success.
It takes perseverance. No team achieves success without hard work and perseverance. Someone (probably a football coach) once said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” This is as true with writing as it is with anything else in life. You rarely succeed–whether “success” means having your novel published, or your copywriting job approved, or your query letter accepted–at the first attempt you make. But you cannot give up. You must keep on keeping on, and you will find success.
You need some cheerleaders on your side. Every good sports team has some avid cheerleaders on the sidelines and in the stands, encouraging it on to greater excellence. As a writer, you need some cheerleaders in your life as well. Whether your cheerleaders are friends, family members, co-workers, or members of a writing group, they are very important. They will tell you that “You can do it!” and make the journey easier and more enjoyable. (If you don’t have anyone in your life who cheers for you and your writing dreams, find one soon.)
You also need some good refs. The use of replacement referees in the NFL this season has already caused some major headaches and problems; their missed calls have shown fans, players, and coaches how important it is to have people on the job who know the rules well. You need your own form of “writing refs” as you work hard to get published. It is important to realize that your final draft is never the best it could be, especially if you think it cannot be improved. Find some good readers (a friend who is good at grammar; someone who is a typical reader of the type of piece you wrote) and get their impression of your work. And then take their advice to heart.
Preparation is extremely important. No team shows up to a game without practicing all week long. To know how to make tackles (or to run the right passing routes, or throw the ball with just the right arc on it), a player must practice that skill over and over and over again. And along with the players committing to practice, coaches do their own forms of preparation: they prepare the proper game plan. As a writer, you must also prepare for the job ahead. Learn about the markets, know how to approach editors, read examples of good writing, work on several drafts, attend writing conferences, practice your writing style, learn how to submit manuscripts properly…do everything ahead of time well, and then you will do better when it’s “crunch” time.
Enjoy the halftime show (and the nachos). When you work hard, you need to enjoy yourself as well. And sometimes, you know? You just need a little break. When we go to football games, my husband (or daughter, depending on who has been nice to me that week) and I like to partake of our favorite treats (nachos, hot dogs, cotton candy, popcorn); we also always enjoy the halftime show. In writing, you need to do the same thing! Enjoy the journey; it’s not all hard work. Enjoy the people you get to interview; relish in your publication; reward yourself with a cup of your favorite coffee or chocolate when you meet a deadline.
It’s finishing that counts. The score at the end of the first quarter doesn’t count, and neither does the one at halftime. The only score that counts in a football game or any sporting match is the final score. That’s why it’s important to see anything through to the end. In writing, this means that you can’t get too frustrated during the process that you quit; you can’t stop doing your best just because you may be down by a little bit; you must see the big picture and keep writing.
One of my favorite coaches of all time, Tom Landry, once said: “Football is an incredible game. Sometimes it’s so incredible, it’s unbelievable.”
The same could be said for writing, couldn’t it?
(Gary and I enjoy the Alabama vs. Michigan game to start of the 2012 season.)