I cover High School athletes for a living and it never ceases to amaze me how dedicated and focused many of these kids are. They are dedicated to their sport and develop a love for what they’re doing that bears it out in their success on the field.
It takes an a certain kind of work ethic to be an athlete. It’s the type of dedication to trot yourself out there every day and work out with little immediate incentive. That takes vision and the patience to say “this will help me in the long run.”
There’s also another element that all successful athletes have, but some may not be express outwardly. It’s called swagger— a certain sway to their step and look to them that says “damn this guys good” Part of the definition says that there is a certain insolence and arrogance to it, which may turn off some, but it’s not the arrogance you are thinking of. It’s the type of defiance to stand up and put down all the doubts; to strut in it’s face and say I am not afraid to fail.
During the recent NBA finals so much has been made of LeBron James and his fourth quarter failures. For those uninitated to basketball, James is the Miami Heat guard that promised the moon upon arriving in South Beach as a free agent and withered in crunch time during the biggest games of his career. Now there are whispers that the best player in basketball is a choker.
There’s an interesting article posted on Yahoo Sport that takes a look at the issue from an interesting angle. The article exhorts the opinion of a Sports Psychologist to tell us why James seemed to choke every time the fourth quarter hits. His conclusion is that when an elite athlete like James are under the intense pressure and scrutiny like he is under, he starts to think about the consequences during during the game and his body releases Cortisol, which is the main ingredient in our fight or flight response. That’s not what you need in a situation you need all your wits about you. It’s what a layman would describe as letting your emotions getting the best of you so. It causes him to miss a few shots and soon the best player starts to play scared. To make it worse, the response is predicated upon the moment not the event itself so every time the fourth quarter hits, he’s apt to relive the nightmare over again.
The article goes on to say that the solution is not to run away from the situation, but instead to relive the situation over and over again. To watch yourself fail over and over again until the emotional response disappears and you’re able to examine the situation without emotion and stay in control. In essence the best way to get past something is to dwell on it and mull over failure until you develop the type of chip on your shoulder to say “Never again.”
Writing will never be the most physically demanding of tasks and the only injury we writers will ever have to worry about is a future bout of Carpal Tunnels Syndrom, but there really isn’t more mentally demanding task then to sit in front of the computer and produce something that people would want to read.
I go through the same doubts and fears as some of the people I cover, but in a different forms. A writing teacher I had once told me about the “I Suck Spiral” where you start to believe that every single word you produce is a pile of dog shit and that “you really suck at this.” The moment the “I Suck Spiral” hits there’s no more creativity and sometimes it snowballs into doubts about whether this is the career for me.
Unlike our athletically inclined brethren there isn’t an opponent that’s guarding you or a defensive lineman trying to take your head off that ever really motivates us. Nor is there a championship to strive for or a team to rely on—our demons come in different forms. It’s that need to get up and get a glass of water after every 30 words you write, it’s the 20th rejection letter that comes in mail on your manuscript, it’s people that tell you that this isn’t really a career that will make you money. My solution is to take a page from sports and develop my own type of swagger. The willingness to say “I refuse to let this beat me.” To say this story will be finished if it kills me and you will have no choice but to recognize how fucking good this is.
Strange to hear isnt it?
Well that’s the catharsis necessary to write. To quit reliving all those moments of doubt and approach this task with the fortitude necessary to keep pecking away, to keep on cutting words and refining. To simply believe that yes, I am really good at this.