So, What’s Your Gold Medal?

I was watching the presentation of yet another GB gold medal the other day (it’s hard not to be a little bit smug, isn’t it?) and commented to him indoors, “I’d like to win a gold medal!” to which he replied, “Bit late for you now. Sorry.”

But no, it isn’t! I’ve been thinking. As writers, we can still have our ‘gold medal moment’: it’s when we finally reach our goal. What’s yours? It might be getting a short story or a poetry collection published; it might be winning a writing competition or it might be the same as mine: getting a novel published.

In the interviews at London 2012, many of the competitors who haven’t won a medal (like Keri-Anne Payne in the 10km open water swim, who came a heart-breaking fourth), say they’re now focussing on Rio. Rio 2016. It’s four years away but it’ll soon come round. That’s their next major target. What writing goals do you want to have achieved by then? If I haven’t written a novel and tried to get it published by the time the next Olympics come round, I’ll be really disappointed with myself. So, in a way, I’m setting myself Rio 2016 as a goal too*.

Of course, you could say that Olympic athletes are lucky. They have coaches and the more successful have whole teams behind them, who schedule their training and keep them focussed on the task ahead. It might be easier for us if we had someone getting us up at 8am and dragging us to the desk, stopwatch in hand and saying,” Right – I want five hundred words by lunchtime!” But we don’t have that – we have to motivate ourselves. And that’s hard.

But nothing worth striving for is easy. All those gold medalists standing on the rostrum have worked for that moment of glory. We haven’t seen them training day in, day out, in the pouring rain, through injuries and disappointments. We only see the end result. And that’s a lot like writing, don’t you think? It’s easy to envy a successful writer when we see them signing books in Waterstones or speaking at a literary event but it’s also easy to forget all the hours they spent, sitting in a room on their own, churning it out. Never mind all the rejections and failures along the way.

It’s hard to be a gold-winning athlete. It’s hard to become a successful writer. But how much do you want that gold medal?

*One of the reasons I haven’t started writing a novel is that I keep waiting for that ‘bolt of lightning’ – that BIG idea. Without that, I don’t feel I’ve got the impetus to start. But, let’s face it, I could be waiting for ever. And I read a great interview with award-winning novelist Catherine O’Flynn today in which she says that she used to be the same – that she was waiting for that ‘Eureka moment’ – until she realised that, for most people, writing a novel doesn’t work like that. It’s more about getting the germ of an idea and then working at it. Read the whole interview here.

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17 Responses to So, What’s Your Gold Medal?

  1. What an inspiring post! I agree with Catherine O’Flynn – I think a small idea can gather other ideas and make a whole novel. I started my last novel by wondering about people who were living on ‘borrowed time’ and what that could mean. The new one started by wondering why someone would bury bodies down a well (from a TV programme). I’m looking forward to seeing you on that podium in Rio…or at least triumphant on your blog!

    • Thanks Rebecca! I see from your blog that you’re doing an MA in Creative Writing. I’m thinking of doing an MA from the Autumn and am just investigating the University of Gloucestershire and the Warwick Uni courses (if I haven’t left it too late, of course!). Would you recommend doing one?

      • I did get a lot out of it, but I’m not sure I would do it again. The main benefit was making more time to write, writing things I probably wouldn’t have tried before, and I met some great writers and we read for each other now. I didn’t learn anything about writing a novel, but with hindsight, I needed to choose a university that is less focused on short stories! The insights into the industry were very helpful. You may be too late for this autumn though…I think Warwick has a great reputation. Good luck with it!

      • Thanks Rebecca. I am still undecided. If I could do an MA in novel writing (which I think some of the London Universities do, but that’s too far from me), then I’d go for it. I’m just worried that all I’m going to do is procrastinate a bit more..!



  2. Julia says:

    We might not have coaches, but we have each other. Go team WB (that’s Writing Bloggers)!

  3. Keith Havers says:

    I’ve just posted along similar lines. It’s good to see I’m not the only one who thinks the years of hard work these athletes go through should also be highlighted. I would advise any aspiring writer to join a writers’ group. They are the equivalent of an athletes back-up team.

    • So you have, Keith – I’ve just read your post and I agree with all you’ve said. ‘Commitment’ is essential to writers as well as sportsmen and women. You’ve just got to keep going, through the tough times. Not one of those bitterly disappointed athletes – who didn’t get the medals they and the rest of the country were expecting – has said “That’s it, I’m giving up!” They’re just moving on to the next goal. And yes, I agree with you about a writers group. I just can’t find a good one to join round here!!



  4. sp56h says:

    My Gold medal would be a collection of my poems, but I’m still working towards Bronze at the moment! Last year I set myself targets and only slipped a little. I take courses with The Poetry School now and then which helps keep me motivated but often it feels like an uphill struggle. Just as well I love writing so much – it’s a part of me.

  5. Great post Helen, now I’m off to read your Dream article in Writing magazine. I agree, we have to have a target, a goal to aim for. Like you, I’m aiming for a novel by 2016, or before if poss. I don’t know why I want to have a novel published without writing one;) We must support team W.B. I love that idea from Julia. At least if we write every day, something will pop in there. Good luck.

  6. An inspiring post, Helen. I’m sure all the athletes training for Rio 2016 will have staging posts (or minor goals) along the way, such as the Commonwealth Games or other major competitions, to keep them on target. Maybe we writers should set ourselves some minor goals too, such as dates to finish novel outline, chapter one, first draft etc to make sure that we are on target for that 2016 book launch! (Otherwise I, for one, will leave it until the last minute!)

  7. Great post. I used to think writing a novel needed that big idea, then I did the A215 Creative Writing course that the Open University offer and my first novel came out of a freewrite exercise. We had to create a character based on some random items (including tarot cards) and Finding Lucy (yet to be finished due to birth of second child) is all about a girl who reads tarot. Since doing the OU course and discovering Nanowrimo I have three competed novels, one of which I am going to self-publish this autumn and another that is going in a competition for children’s novels in September.
    If you haven’t tried it I would definitely give Nanowrimo a go: it gives you all the short-term targets you need (writing 50k words in a month) plus a massive support network not just for the 30 days of November but throughout the year. If you donate a small amount ($10 is the minimum I think) you get great inspirational emails from successful writers throughout November and beyond, and there are some great freebies and offers for ‘winners’. Three of my four novels were started during Nanowrimo and it has given me the ability to sit and write 10k words in a day fairly regularly (I had to write something daft like 13k in the last day of last November and when I managed it it became my own new personal best.)
    Good luck with your Rio target, I look forward to reading your novel! 🙂

    • I agree with you, Nanowrimo is good! I have done it (not very seriously) twice. I might do it again this year. It’s good for you, I think! (And by the way, I didn’t donate last time but I still got inspirational emails).

  8. Great post and I totally agree that these athletes inspire right across the spectrum, whatever your gift or dream is. Personally, my gold medal is publishing a collection of poetry for children – there, I’ve said it! Thanks for your very generous, humourous, uplifting and inspiring posts – much appreciated – and I wish you lots of luck (and dedication and hard work – hmmm) towards achieving your gold medal – reserve my copy!

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