6 Ways to Move from Good to Olympic Gold Writing

blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

Good writing or Olympic Gold Writing? How does a writer move from one to the other?

Olympic good writerWhat’s the difference between a good ice skater and an Olympic gold ice skater? Where are the similarities between the discipline it takes to become an Olympian and what it takes to become an Olympic-quality writer?

  1. Strength training.

    Watching the world’s best athletes gather for the Olympics is always entertaining and inspiring. As the camera zeroed in on a petite women’s ice skating champion, I noticed the definition in the muscles of her shoulders. She’d been lifting weights. An Olympic-level skater needs upper body strength in addition to core and leg strength. Muscles don’t retain clear definition without upkeep. Strength training is part of the price a skater pays for reaching a higher level of performance. For writers, that might equate to persistence in learning our craft. Even the best grammarians among us continue to study grammar. Award-winning authors listen to podcasts, read books on plot and character development, and build storytelling muscles.Olympic Gold Writer

  2. Diligence.

    You know the story. Since the Olympic-bound kid was a toddler, he or she showed up at the rink (with bleary-eyed parents) in the wee hours of pre-dawn to practice. Some athletes of this quality spend four to six hours a day practicing. (No wonder my piano recitals were less than stellar.) They devoted themselves to honing their skills, showing up whether they felt like it or not, saying no to distractions even when it didn’t make them popular. That diligence gets noticed and rewarded. The same is true for those striving to become Olympic Gold writers.

  3. Not settling for less than excellence.

    Mastered the triple toe loop? Moving on to the quad. Perfected the spin? Make the revolutions quicker. Technically spot on? Now to work on elegance.

  4. Choosing the right musical accompaniment for their routine.

    We watch Olympic skaters and ice dancers and their carefully choreographed routines. Sports commentators add insights about lines and edges and costumes. And the music. Is it right for the skater(s)? Right for their style of skating, appropriate to engage that unique audience? It all matters. All the details matter. As they do for Olympic Gold writers.

  5. Determining to press through nerves or fear.

    World class athletes prepare their bodies, their routines, and their minds. They know nerves can paralyze, especially on an ultra-public stage like the Olympics. Nerves or fear can paralyze writers too. Those who press through their fears and uncertainties, who pop back up after falls or rejection, rise above the rest.

  6. Understanding judges’ expectations.

    Olympic athletes are well-versed in the requirements of their sport’s discipline. What will cause deductions? How do they perform well enough to earn top scores? What elements are mandatory and which are optional? Writers who understand judges’, publishers’, editors’, agents’, and readers’ expectations move from good to Olympic Gold.

Olympic gold writingWhat have you noticed about Olympic athletes and the Olympic games that can apply to writing?


23 Responses

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  1. We used to live near a rink where Olympic wannabes trained. I watched a skater work on a tricky move. She fell, HARD, time after time–for over an hour. After each fall, she got up, dusted off her knees, stretched, skated back to the starting point and tried again. By the end of the session, I’m sure, her knees and elbows were badly bruised.
    * I sigh over yet one more edit of my chapter–edits in the comfort of my home, not on hard ice. Edits in the privacy of my home, not in the presence of an audience. Edits that might bruise my soul, but not my body.

  2. When I was younger I sought excellence in sports, and spent those hours of hard, diligent work to get there.
    * I built a wall of trophies and plaques, and won a small degree of fame that made me swell with pride.
    * And you know what, the things I remember most now are the simpler joys I passed up; the summer-field-walks and lazy river afternoons I could have had with my dog, and I was at the gym instead. The trophies are gone, I’m that has-been athlete who looks like he wants to be young again, and that dog is long dead.
    * It wasn’t worth it. The laurels fade, and only the cherished and true memories of the heart remain evergreen, in both sport and writing.
    * And now, I’ll write to get the point across, trust God to get it into the hands of those who need it (even if it reads like a tech order), and live the fuller life that remains to me.

  3. Kristie says:

    Love these spot-on comparisons. Excellent post!

  4. Carol Ashby says:

    Excellence in a sport isn’t an individual effort. My son got medals in track at state, so I’ve watched this up close. (I wasn’t an athlete myself.) The coach who sees the flaws and explains how to get rid of them is key. And as any star track athlete knows, a team is more than the sum of the individual performers. The encouragement and friendship, even among those who all want to be #1, helps each competitor push harder to reach the pinnacle. A new PR (personal record) is celebrated as much as a win. And even if you can’t win your own event, you rejoice with your teammates who do.

  5. J.D. Rempel says:

    I love this! I’m writing my entrance essay to get into a MFA program for writing and this is one of my reasons for applying. It goes along with one of my writing mottos too from Walt Disney, “Keep moving forward.”

  6. I would think it would be important in the training process to examine what experts are doing right, as well as what they are doing wrong. Are they trying something new? Can you take something, put a little spin on it, and make it your own? Be studious. Not merely of manual instruction but of the actual demonstration. I want to see.

  7. Determination and talent make for a good combination. Add some charisma and charm, the desire to communicate the sheer love of sport and beauty, and then seeing it come together for an audience that appreciates it . . . ahhh, nice, exciting, and self-validating. Seeing the tears at this olympics speak of the battle of pushing through, pushing yourself on, believing in reaching the goal, the gold, despite hurdles, injury, and disappointments, speaks of resilience and the inconquerable spirit. That’s us.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      I too have been impressed with those who incur injuries that would send me back to the couch. But they press on, up, and over. The exhilaration following THAT victory must be incredible.

  8. Thank you for the reminder that there are other folks out there putting their hearts on the line to learn a skill that delights them! We are in good company when we strive to do something we love with the best of our ability!

  9. Great post! Thanks!

  10. What have I noticed about Olympic athletes? Quite often I hear an athlete say something similar to, “I do better if I remember to have fun.” With so many rules and guides to remember, expectations to fulfill, and pressing deadlines in writing I often forget to have fun while I write. That motto needs to be on the wall over my desk. “Have fun!”

  11. I haven’t had a chance to view much of this year’s Winter Olympics, but I did watch most of the last Summer Olympics. Watching the runners always makes me nostalgic for my years on the Track and Field team of my high school. The head coach for our team also coached the Cross Country team. He repeatedly urged me to try out, and one year I took his advice.
    Although I’d won numerous medals for my Track and Field team and been given the Coach’s Award two years in a row by then, I only lasted two weeks in Cross Country. In those two weeks, I never managed to finish a single long run without walking large sections of it. So I quit, telling myself the runs were too long and the coach had been wrong about my potential. I decided I just wasn’t meant to run long distances.
    Fast forward ten years and you’d find me completing a full marathon after six months of intense, long-distance training.
    The key to the different outcomes came down to training – not of my body, but of my mind.
    As an immature teenager I’d looked ahead during each run and told myself that the distance left was too far, I couldn’t do it. So I quit.
    As an adult, I listened to the marathon coaches who taught me to not only train my body, but to train my mind by keeping my focus on the smaller goals and successes. When I felt I couldn’t go any farther, I would make myself mental deals. If I just made it to the next lamppost, I could stop and walk. Except, then I would make it to that lamppost and decide I could make it to the next stop sign. I learned to celebrate my successes, no matter how small, and to cut myself some slack when I truly did need a walking break. I reminded myself of why I’d chosen to run this race in the first place. Little by little, section by section, I made my way to the finish line of each training run. By the time marathon day arrived, I’d trained myself to push harder than I ever thought I could go without mentally punishing myself for true limitations.
    I’m learning to apply these same ideas to my writing journey. There are days when I look at my word count goal, compare it to my current word count total, and sigh with discouragement. There are other days when I get conflicting critiques on the same piece of work from equally respectable sources, and part of me just wants to throw my hands in the air and give up. On those days, I’ve learned to stop that train of thought and focus on what I have accomplished and the obstacles I’ve overcome to get to where I am. I remind myself of why I write and Who is in charge of my writing journey. Maybe I’m not reaching my goal as quickly as I would like, maybe the path isn’t clearly illuminated with easy to follow steps, but I am doing my best and I will not give up because He is calling me to continue.
    In the end, I can study craft until my eyes blur and have all the talent in the world, but if I don’t train my mind to focus on what I can do and have done in His strength instead of dwelling on my weaknesses and fears, I will fail.

  12. For what it may be worth, one thing I’ve learned in athletics and in life is that you’ve got to accept the pain, because only through that small simulacrum of the Cross can one find the transcendence of victory.