I watched a friend of mine compete in a triathlon recently. Everything that could go wrong did- or almost everything. What I learned from her attitude throughout the day can be applied to my writing life. Well, to life itself, actually. I walked away with 4 writing epiphanies to share. I hope you find a nugget or two to help your writing journey.
What went so
Stormy days ahead
Months of training went into that single race for my friend. Here’s what the weather looked like the day before the event:
The meteorologists were calling for 80% chance of pouring rain for race day. During a triathlon—which includes swimming, cycling, and running—racing a bike along slippery wet roads, while hunkering down on those cool-looking aerodynamic handlebars, can be a recipe for disaster.
Still, as we arrived at the venue race morning, the windshield wipers swishing drizzle away, my friend shrugged, “Well, I’ll get wet during the swim anyway.” With that, she proceeded to pull on a raincoat, struggle the bike uphill, and racked it next to the other athletes’ bikes, all with a smile.
Putting the brakes on progress
As my friend pushed that bike uphill, she realized the brakes were rubbing. No matter what she tried, she couldn’t fix them. How should you react, faced with cycling 56 miles on rolling hills against the friction of rubbing brakes, burning out the very muscles you need to save for the 13.1 mile run to the finish line?
Evidently also with a smile. “I either quit or do what I came to do. And I’m not a quitter.”
Sink or swim
Wetsuits are a beautiful thing in the open water swims of triathlons. They add buoyancy and protect against the often frigid water (and sometimes things like stinging jellyfish). That’s the theory, anyway.
But what’s the proper response when the zipper comes off in your hand during the final moments of preparation, as the announcer urges athletes to the waterfront for the imminent race start? You guessed it: meet the challenge head on, swim with the wide-open flap in the back, and hope it doesn’t slow you down in the water.
“It’ll be easier to take off for the bike ride later,” my friend shrugged, donning her swim cap and joining the athletes at the lakefront, the back of her wetsuit gaping comically open.
I’ve often heard that the ‘true you’ comes out during such moments—when life’s little (or huge) problems try to derail your plans. I believe, in part, that’s true. I also believe that the way a person responds can be changed, trained, and conditioned— a lot like triathletes train for a race. Sure, my friend’s awesome underlying personality came out in those difficult moments. But her response was also tempered by the many hours she had spent training, learning to deal with problems—flat tires, broken equipment, bad weather, sore muscles—training herself to deal with whatever was thrown at her on race day.
So, when she arrived at the race venue overshadowed by storm clouds and broken brakes, she had already built a tolerance to difficulties, allowing her to flex better when the unexpected happened.
In essence, she toughened herself up.
By now you’re saying cheers to my friend for her attitude and all, but how, exactly, is this at all like writing?
Hang in there. It’ll all make sense in a minute…
Haven’t we all faced days filled with obstacles while trying to get our stories out there, after months (sometimes years) of planning, writing, and late nights over a keyboard? Days when everything seems to be crashing down around us, trying to keep us from our goal? Like the stormy moment when author and blogger Eldred Bird’s backup crashed, taking his manuscripts (and years of work) with it (yikes!). Or when life’s obligations and commitments put the brakes on progress for any number of writerly friends I have known.
Isn’t that all a lot like waking up race morning and having to fight to achieve what you’ve worked so hard to get there to do?
Isn’t our first inclination to opine, “Why did this happen to me?”
The issue isn’t what happens, but how we deal with it. I’ve recently written an article on dealing with those days as they are happening. Today, I offer ways to be stronger before those tough days hit–to become more resilient.
Here are tips I garnered from watching my friend negotiate that havoc-turned-to-achievement day. How you, too, can have a little more ability to tolerate those tough days. (Don’t get me wrong! You can still have that pint of ice cream I mentioned, here).
1.Remember your why
I think the best summary was when my friend said the following:
“You have a choice- either quit or do what you came to do.”
And that’s probably the key. To her race, to my writing. To your writing. You have a choice. You chose to start writing for a reason. What was it? Why are you here? What drove you to want to put pen to paper and create? We each have our own reasons. For some of us, it’s to immortalize our thoughts, our words. For others, it’s to make our readers smile, fear, cry, and journey along with our characters.
In the midst of all the life’s strife and uncertainty, we need to keep focused on what we came here to do.
What is your why? Write it down and pin it to your wall, where you can look at it and remember on those hard days.
2. See the big picture:
It’s easy to forget all the good stuff about writing, when you’re floundering amidst a really tough day. I always find it helps to step back and look at the big picture. Yes, that one single day might suck. It may be absolutely horrible. Go ahead—vent, cry, but then:
- Step back to look at your overall journey as a writer
- Take mental note of the positives that have occurred, such as a day things went well, goals you have met, or even some chapter you are particularly proud to have written
By stepping out of the stresses of the moment and looking at this bigger picture, you can refocus your mind in a more positive direction. With the right attitude, you can get past the stormy day(s), emerging from the dark clouds to type another day.
3. Get your support crew
I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s very important to build a support crew that you can reach out to when things get rough, like I was there for my friend. This is why I belong to a writer’s group that meets weekly online- we can vent to each other, offer support, give words of wisdom- picking each other up along this writing journey. Like my blog title, On We Merrily Stumble—with each other’s help.
This is crucial, as a writer. Find that network- through a conference, or MeetUp, or your local librarian who may know of groups. Get over the fact that most of us are introverts. Just get connected, so when that stormy day wreaks havoc, you have a support crew.
“But, how can anyone really know my struggles?” you may ask.
Each of our struggles are personal, that’s very true. It was easy for me to sit on the sidelines, watching my friend push through those challenges. I got to watch her go through the wet, chilly, challenging day— all from the safety of a cabana.
The smile and attitude on the outside couldn’t possibly tell me all the struggles she had going on inside. It’s always harder when you are the one that must (as a writerly friend of mine says) ‘put on your big girl panties and forge ahead (see her insight here). But because I had done these races before, I has some insight to her struggles. I was able to offer honest empathy.
So, while your support crew may not be walking through the exact same problems, it’s likely they’ll have some insight, or at least a kind word, when you need it most. It’s simply easier to do with a little help (and honest empathy) from your friends.
4. Finish what you came to do
As my racing friend so eloquently stated, ultimately there is a choice when the tough moments hit: you can quit or do what you came here to do.
Thankfully, unlike the race—where there is a real time cut off after which you’re not allowed across the finish line— writing doesn’t have a deadline. You have time to bounce back. To finish what you came here to do.
Putting it all together
So toughen yourself up a bit for those stormy days:
- Remember your why,
- See the big picture,
- Get your support crew…
…then grab your gear and finish what you came here to do.
How do YOU deal with the stormy writing days? Share with us in the comments below! Your tips may really help someone get across their writing finish line.
Please take a moment to check out some other writers posting about this month’s topic: When the going gets tough as a writer how do you keep yourself going to the end?