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.