No Olympics for Writers
The Games of the 30th Olympiad in London, United Kingdom are underway. It has been a tradition in my family to watch the Games since before I was born. Despite NBC’s generally poor coverage, that tradition continues. (As I write this, I have a live broadcast of cross country equestrian on the TV next to me.)
The stories can of course be quite inspiring. Even for those who do not medal. (Especially, sometimes, for those who do not medal. Thanks for not covering that very much, NBC. But I digress.)
Yet despite the uplifting nature of the Games and the individual stories that make up same, I can’t help but feel a bit let down when I watch them, when I consider my own life.
No, we are not supposed to compare our lives to that of other people. But we all do it, and when bloggers do so, they write about it.
I don’t mean to suggest I could have ever been a competitive athlete. Even if I had been doing things such as riding horses, or archery from the time I was a child, I have serious doubts as to my ability to have reached Olympic status. Anything is possible, of course, but evidence suggested I would not have ever been in the Parade of Nations in any nearby parallel universe.
And this doesn’t hurt me much. Like just about anyone I at times wish I knew what it was like to represent my homeland at the Games. It is after all a unique position in all of humanity. (As I have said, the Olympics, despite their problems, are the biggest human undertaking that doesn’t involve killing people.) Yet most of the time, I accept my non-Olympic status.
What is more difficult to get over at times is what I lack off of the field of competition as compared to Olympians. What do I mean?
To begin with, support. I have friends and family members who want me to succeed in the life I have chosen. That of a writer and sometime actor. That support is appreciated. Yet when compared to the support you hear in the countless stories of individuals at the Olympics, it isn’t sufficient much of the time. The stories I hear from London, (and from the other Games before it) about those who wouldn’t let the athlete quit, and refused to let the athlete lose faith…I am not familiar with that sort of constant, demonstrative support. When things get hard, (and they almost always are for me, who still hasn’t reached the level of success he needs to), I envy such vocal support.
Outside of my family I attribute some of that to the mysterious X-Factor, present my entire life, that discourages people from investing in me emotionally. I simply don’t inspire too many people to cheer me on. It’s depressing and frustrating, but true. People in my life may wish me well, but by and large don’t believe enough in me or what I do (am trying to do) to go out of their way to express that.
Some of it I am sure is due to the nature of the life I have chosen. Writing is a solitary endeavor in many ways. And it is not flashy. One cannot sit in a stadium and cheer for someone as they write. In the very least it would not be at all practical to do so. Therefore the lack of sexiness in what I do may be a fraction of the reason it doesn’t inspire people. Yet I would counter that not every Olympic event is “sexy”, and yet competitors in every event share almost the same story of unyielding vocal support from someone or another. A story with which, by and large, I am unfamiliar.
The solitary nature of the work, (at least until an editor gets hold of it) can also be thanked for the lack of training/coaching I get. True, I can taking writing classes, and hire individuals to improve any given aspect of my writing or career, one aspect at a time. (In theory.) But unlike Olympic sports, training, support, and coaching are not built into what I do. If I wanted to be an Olympic fencer, I could not simply buy the equipment, and whip myself into shape, and hope to compete. I would need in the very least a coach. It would not be an option I could avail myself of, but a requirement in order to be allowed into the sport.
Writing has no such built-in coaching structure. I do not have the advantage of someone to review what I have done each day, make suggestions for corrections, and praise what I am doing well. I am in a writers group which supplies some of that sort of advice about twice a month. And I greatly appreciate them. But it can hardly take the place of coaching.
When you write, you have to be your own encouragement. (Especially when, as I said, you have so little “out loud, in-your-face” emotional support from others.)
Another example of this distance between what I do and what Olympians do; a great deal of credit is given to athletes simply for being at the Games. Smaller countries with little Olympic budgets that field five athletes tend to treat those athletes like heroes when they come home after the games. This is true even if the athletes bring home no medals.
Actually this is true even for larger countries. Most Americans on the Olympic team this year have no shot at a medal, and yet are thrilled to just be on the team. (Again, as are their families and friends.) When you are a writer, you don’t get such esteem merely for trying.
Partly because there is no one centralized internationally renowned stage upon which we can execute our craft. And partly because in the writing world you are essentially stamped an amateur or a wannabe until/if you are published. The Olympic equivalent of being told you are worthless unless you bring home the gold medal in every event you are in, in every Olympics you are in. A ridiculous standard that writers tend to be held to all of the time.
Making it worse, that standard is not objective. There are unfair moments for athletes to be sure, but by and large if a sprinter crosses the finish line first, he wins. A writer doesn’t win unless his manuscript happens to land in the lap of the exact right person on the exact right day. Or unless their ideas happen impress many magazines over the course of a year. One cannot even train for that. One can’t be coached into knowing how Agent X is going to feel any given day, or what Editor Y is going to want for their issue 8 months from now.
In short, what I have dedicated my time to is a solitary, unsexy, misunderstood endeavor with a steep metric for esteem and success, dictated by 100% subjective officials. Coupled with my personal unpopularity, it is a lonely life at times which requires me to be not only the athlete, but my own coach, my own counselor, my own judge and my own publicist. I too have to play through the pain, but the pain is invisible. I accomplish impressive things that nobody cares about or understands because they are not the grand prize.
I want to quit often, but have nobody there but myself to prevent me from doing so. There is nobody there to make sure I get out of bed and do this stuff when I don’t see the point. My story will never be told on television if I fail. I will receive no heroes welcome from anyone when I return home, and in fact, do not often leave home anyway, because I am trying to write myself into a life.
It can get old, I assure you. Especially when I see so many stories from London, and indeed other places outside of the Olympic Games.
Look, I am not suggesting that people should find the process of writing interesting to watch. It isn’t. Writing is not a spectator event. When writing excites people, it isn’t until years after the event is concluded. (Talk about a tape delay!)I am merely expressing frustration at the fact that writers need just as much, if not more applause, outward appreciation for efforts, and admiration for just making the attempt as your average world-class athlete does. Some of them, with more vocal friends that live a less lonely life than I do get some of that. But only some.
There is a little hope, I suppose. J.K. Rowling, a writer, had a short but significant role in the opening ceremonies of these games. Her personal creation, the character of Voldemort, had an even larger role in same. She is not an Olympian, but was a part of the Olympics. And while her situation is unique, I suppose it does suggest that with a lot of luck, (something Olympians would not deny belief in) a writer can one day get the sort of Olympic, vocal appreciation and attention and encouragement of which I speak.