I'm already hooked on the Olympics -- even planning a special Olympic picnic to get us through the Opening Ceremonies. So while I'm cooking and staying glued to the TV for a couple of days, I'm borrowing parts of a related column from my friend Joanna Penn. (Needless to say I'm jealous that she's actually in London!) Half of this column will come today and the other half tomorrow:
The Olympics have started and London is in party mode!
The city has been spruced up and now the hordes have arrived. I never enjoyed mass sporting events until I attended the Sydney Olympics when the penny finally dropped. It was a glorious, patriotic time and now I’m a fan of these brilliant events. So I’ll be soaking up the Olympic vibe as the city goes nuts.
But even if you’re not into sport, there’s still a lot writers can learn from the Olympics.
(1) Open with a hook
The opening ceremony has become a must-watch event showcasing the national pride of the host nation, as well as the march of the competitors around the main arena and the lighting of the Olympic flame. London’s event is managed by Danny Boyle, famous for directing Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting, among other movies. It promises to be a grand spectacular. Our books need to open in the same way. Not necessarily with a massive event, but with something that the reader wants to be part of, that drives them to buy the book and stay with us through the opening chapters. If a reader stays with us through the length of an ebook sample, they are likely to buy the book.
(2) It takes years of practice behind the scenes to make it this far
Athletes don’t just wake up one day and compete in the Olympics. Many of them will have been training for this since they were children. This is not a hobby, this is a lifelong passion. It’s years of practice in the cold, frosty mornings or the muggy heat of the afternoons, when your friends are still in bed or in the bar. It’s practice over and over again until the body knows the moves and then you push it just a little further.
I was at Thrillerfest a few weeks ago, and I was struck by how many years the big name authors have been working to achieve the success they now have. Many of them wrote for years before they ‘made it’, and before that, they worked for years to get noticed. Practice over many years will take us all that far.
(3) It also takes discipline, hard work and professional habits
I recently read an article about the professional habits of Michael Phelps, the US swimmer who takes gold repeatedly, and no doubt will continue to do so. His habits and discipline 7 days a week give him an edge over other competitors.
I also wrote recently of how Steven Pressfield’s book ‘Turning Pro’ challenged me with my own writing habits. Being an author is about mastery of the craft but it’s also about writing the words and getting them out there – that means we have to put in the time and the hard work. How professional are your writing habits at the moment? How committed are you?
(4) Success is based on both individual effort and teamwork
Professional athletes don’t work on their own, even if the sport is based on individual performance. There are coaches, team-mates, fans, support crew. Without this team, the athlete cannot compete.
In the same way, writing is (generally) an individual pursuit but we also need a team behind us to succeed. As independent authors, we need pro editors and cover designers, potentially help with formatting and we certainly need our distributors and the marketing platforms we use to spread the word. Traditionally published authors have an agent, editors and the whole team at the publisher. We all need the support of other writers, friends and family. I love to read the dedication and acknowledgements in books, because it honors the support of the team behind the writer.
(5) There will always be rivalry
Not everyone can win gold, even on the same team and so there will always be rivalry. It’s hard not to look at other people’s success and want it for yourself. Some people will even attack the winners and savage their success. Writers see this happen on Amazon with some awful reviews that often turn out to be from other writers.
We need to accept that there will always be some comparison, some measuring. But then we need to celebrate each others success and use it to spur our own efforts towards excellence.
There now. If, like me, you're taking a couple of days off to enjoy the London party, you at least have an excuse. You're taking lessons from the athletes!