Like many of you, I’ve been sitting on my couch each night, mesmerized by display after display of Olympic achievement. Whether watching Michael Phelps sweep the all-time Olympic gold record or Gabby Douglas wow the judges on bars, I have this distinct thought: there’s no way, given an eternity to train, that I could accomplish such feats. These Olympians are super-human —they venture beyond the beyond.
But then another thought edges its way into my brain: “Wait one minute! Isn’t this exactly what I’ve been doing, day in and out, for the past 13 years?” I have been training like an Olympian. The difference? Like many of you, my training has been on a track of words.
And this is the thing….my goals and the prize keep changing. In 1999 when I submitted my first poem into the world, I swore I’d be satisfied with one tiny poem in print. Having one person out in the world appreciate my words would be enough. In my mind, that was gold. And then . . . it happened—the “wanting.” I’m not sure what that wanting was exactly: a winning feeling? a deep desire for my words to reach the wider world? But I liked it. I wanted to ride this wave some more.
The good thing is I don’t believe I’ve mastered this art. As Ellen Bryant Voigt advised one of her students: “Honey, it’s all draft until you die.” I realize I’m not through learning. I continue to take workshops. I’ve formed critique groups. I revise and revise. But my goals took on a new form.
Maybe I’d publish a whole book of poems. Check. Maybe another prize? Check. Maybe the biggest prize? Check. But there’s more How about a whole new genre?! Why not write for children? Of course, I’d be satisfied with ONE picture book, right? That’s the new gold standard. Then I’d let my surf board glide into shore. But wait! There’s the Olympics.
That’s why, in some small way, I can relate to the athletics on my television screen. I, too, have set goals, I’ve mastered techniques. I’ve trained with the best. In her article “Train like an Olympian [http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/sampleworkouts/ss/OlympicTraining_10.htm],” Elizabeth Quinn discusses strategies for Olympian success. And as writers, we can apply these to our work. One of the hardest strategies for me is the one Quinn calls “Rest and Recover the Right Way.” This is the stepping back period. I would add Reflection to this category, or a time to be grateful—to reflection all the successes, small, large, and nothing short of miraculous, along the way.
Recently I reminded a friend of mine of this. He has authored and illustrated over 40 books in his career. When he received an unfavorable review of his latest book, he was in a funk. To be so close to touching that wall, touching that medal, and then to have it yanked away was devastating. But that’s when we have to ask ourselves: are all those ribbons and trophies and medals on the wall the real goal? Can they ever stack up to lives touched, hearts changed and, in the case of authors, those first readers who dared to put fingers to our pages and read our words out loud? I don’t think so. To me, this is the Olympic-sized goal worthy of pursuit, even if NBC never captures it on tv.