Where were the Olympics when I was a child. I don’t ever remember seeing them on television when I was in my formative stages. (Am I old, or what?) The things I am learning now would have served me better if I had discovered them earlier. Oh, to be sure, I was advised from time to time to “do my best,” to “live up to my abilities,” etc. But it was never explained to me what that might look like. Learning came easy to me –still does–and I had a good memory–that’s slipping a bit–so I never had to work very hard in school to get decent grades. I never knew what my potential might be or how to work for it. When you live in a culture that considers good numbers or grades as the sign of success it is easy to depend on those roadmarks even if you don’t have to work very hard for them.
Missy Franklin (Photo credit: jdlasica)
In the wee hours Monday morning I watched an interview with Missy Franklin, winner of one silver medal and four gold medals in swimming for the USA. When asked if she was pleased with her accomplishment she replied that her goals for the Olympics were to do her very best (Missy broke at least one world record swimming as hard as she could) and to have fun whether she won any medals or not. Amazingly, I had heard the same thing from some athelete’s coach a few days earlier. The coach added that if you take care of those two things the results will take care of themselves.
Such goals are the antithesis of what I was taught to believe was important. Imagine what could be accomplished if children, teenagers and adults were shown what their potential might be and how to reach it instead of just working for grades and high numbers, whether it be sales, income, number of “toys”, etc.
I’ve distilled what I learned watching Sunday’s Olympics down to three points:
1. Enjoy what you pursue, whether it is work, a sport, or education.
2. Achieve/perform/produce to the best of your ability. If you can’t figure out what that is or what it should look like ask someone for help. Athletes have coaches. Maybe we need mentors.
3. Continue to improve and expand your ability though training and practice.
I’m speaking to writers but the advice, spawned by what I’ve gleaned from those who have excelled, applies equally to any and all of life’s pursuits.
[I would say I have finally found a pursuit in life–writing–that challenges me enough to convince me I need to pursue more training and practice, but I suddenly thought about raising my children. What a challenge and I did educate myself on how to be the best mother I could be. I just didn’t see the connection until now.]
One of the best, and easiest ways to educate oneself on being the best writer they can be is to read the works of good authors. If you write essays, read the works of great essayists. Librarians would be good sources for finding good authors. If you want to write fiction novels read the works of great storytellers. Learn how to hook a reader, how to move the action along, how to write good dialog, create compelling characters, and build to a great climax. If classes aren’t available (you might check the internet) there are many good books available. There are many books out there in “writing land” that are filled with many words and little information so you may need to ask advice on which books to borrow or buy.
As I’ve watched the Olympics the thing that has struck me as of the highest importance is the value of finding someone or something to train you to be better at what you want to pursue. Along with that comes the need for someone (a hired editor, or a critique group) to point out areas that need improvement, as well as the commitment to constantly be making your best better.
What books or classes have you found useful in working toward becoming a better writer? Do you have someone knowledgeable about writing who can critique your work and give advice?
I wonder what I could have achieved in school, and later in life, if I had discovered what my potential was–the extent of my abilities. But it’s not too late to learn.