I’ve been an athlete and a writer for as long as I can remember. Over the years I’ve combined resistance training, long distance running, and dancing with graduate studies, full-time employment, and now my creative projects.
These pursuits offer many rewards, as Whitney wrote a few weeks ago. Athletics keep my body healthy, give me energy, and boost my creativity, while writing gives voice to my hopes, dreams, and life philosophies.
But neither writing well nor serious athletics is easy, of course. We have to expend a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, as they say, to achieve our goals. And there are no shortcuts to success, whether you’re training for a marathon, competing for a black belt in karate, or completing a novel project.
So we’ll need to cultivate the right mindset–a “can do” attitude that helps us achieve goals in any area of our lives. Here are three ingredients of a “can do” attitude along with ways you can cultivate them:
Have the courage to step out into new territory. Tell yourself, “I am a ____,” filling in the blank with whatever you want to be. Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a rock climber, but get nervous thinking about those dizzying heights. Maybe your dreams is to become a circus acrobat, but you’re scared to perform without a safety net.
If you’re reading this blog, I imagine you decided at some point, maybe long ago, to fill in the blank with “writer,” despite fears that your parents are the only people who’ll ever read your work. Once you fill in that blank, it takes courage to make it true.
Cultivate the courage it takes to write by,
- Connecting and stay connected to what inspired you to fill in the blank with “writer” in the first place. For example, do you want your writing to give others hope and delight?
- Deciding that a life without doing and being what you desire is unlivable.
- Creating possibility in your life for filling in the blank by saving money to invest in writing opportunities and freeing up more time in your schedule to write.
- Listening to your inner motivator. Fill in the blank on a daily basis, even if all you’ve got is thirty minutes.
- Surrounding yourself with people who are courageous and motivated themselves, who will encourage you, and who will be ready to celebrate with you when you succeed.
- Tuning out naysayers who lack motivation and courage and who devise ways to distract you from your daily fill-in-the-blank efforts.
The early stages of filling in the blank are fraught with pain and suffering. With a new exercise regimen it’s the muscle cramps, shortness of breath, injuries, and worse. But ya keep going and find that the pain and suffering gives way to a stronger body and endorphins. And miracle of miracles, they lift you higher after every workout.
The early stages of a new writing project are fraught with pain and suffering of a different sort. You stare at a blank screen, then bang out a few sentences only to delete ’em two seconds later. But ya keep writing and soon you find yourself deleting fewer sentences. You get into the Zone, your project takes shape, and everything is sparkly and glorious.
To cultivate the stamina it takes to write,
- On a weekly or even daily basis, complete short writing prompts that are unrelated to your larger projects. Like warming-up to prepare for a grueling workout, writing a page or two in response to a writing prompt keeps your mind poised to launch new ideas that lead to big results.
- Don’t give up before you reach your novel project’s first hurdle. You can mastermind your way over it.
- Take breaks periodically to refresh yourself so that you don’t burn out.
To do something that’s difficult and actually stick with it over time, you have to really love it. This is true in athletics and writing. For example, I don’t like playing contact sports and probably wouldn’t keep up workouts if that’s all I had access to. But give me a dance studio or several miles of running terrain and there’s no way you can stop me from rockin’ out.
It’s the same with writing. You have to love the process of choosing just the right language for a given project. You have to love the pain and pleasure of writing characters who feel what you feel. You have to love this whole process in order to sit at your desk for hours until you get your project just right.
To cultivate the passion it takes to write,
- Discover the works of literature that move you emotionally and intellectually and make a list of the characteristics you admire in these texts. That way you can work toward creating works that share those qualities.
- Remind yourself of the experiences you want to create for readers. Better yet, imagine them inspired by your characters, intrigued by your settings, and enlightened by your plots.
Take care of yourself
While a “can do” attitude will help you can write like a champion athlete, there are times when we lose heart, get frustrated, or burn ourselves out. When one of these writing crises hits, it’s time to check in with yourself and figure out what will get you back in the game.
- Are you still passionate about your project? Like, do you really, really love it? If not, walk away and find something you do love. But before you do, try to distinguish between temporary frustration with your project and a true loss of passion for it.
- Are you utterly exhausted from all your efforts? Take a break for however long you need and fill the time with something crazy fun.
- Are you scared you won’t succeed? Talk to your most stalwart supporters and read the stories of people who’ve succeeded against all odds.