Writing and the Olympics
The Rio Games are underway. I wonder which sport is most like writing?
There are word sprints, of course, which many people find quite useful to their process. I’ve never been much good at them, but their popularity cannot be denied. So for those people at those times, writing could be said to be like track’s sprinting events.
Unless of course you are one of those who say, (and say and say and say, because it’s a well-used expression), “writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” And truth be told it is, more often than not, at least when working on a novel. Whether you self publish or go for an agent, there is nothing fast about writing, editing, revising over and over, and bringing it into existence as a marketable product. I have to remind myself of this sometimes, and it’s taken me years to get a bit more comfortable with the idea of a marathon. (Writing kind, I’d likely collapse and die if I attempted an actual marathon. No, I won’t train for one with you, sorry.)
Equestrian events come to mind. Those who think the can sit down and make a novel, or a short story, or any amount of their writing obey their bidding without any effort are almost as foolish as those who think they can mount a horse and insist it do anything and everything it is told, like a machine. I’ve known enough “horse people” in my time to know that the personality and tendency of the horse must be accounted for, or at best the rider will do poorly in the event. At worse, the rider will be thrown off into the dust.
There is a reason they are called “riders.” It takes two independent life forces working together for the ideal result. “Rider” even sounds a bit like “writer,” one who also must tame the muse, ride the powerful animal that is creative moment, trying not to fall off or get kicked by it-showing patience and coaxing a performance out of it when things are a little tougher along the way.
Writers spend most of their time just treading the proverbial water, and it can be exhausting. All the while they must be ready to wing a shot towards a goal, when the opportunity presents itself. Staying still results in sinking below the surface, and we know what happens after that. Therefore, is water polo an apt metaphor for the writing life?
If you’ve written more than two things in life about which you cared, I don’t even need to elaborate on how wrestling is a damn near perfect reflection of writer problems.
Then again, so is platform diving, wherein a human being stands high above a pool and takes sometimes a flying leap out into the air, with mere seconds to get under control before slamming into the depths.
Archery requires concentration, relaxation and calmness, confidence and guts. Dead-center perfect shots are always the goal, but only occasionally the result, even from the top players on the planet. Rifle and pistol events have similar skill and temperament requirements. Are these the ideal writing metaphors?
If you’re always chasing a concept or idea in your writing, perhaps trap shooting, with its flying clay disks streaking across your perception for only a moment is more apropos.
Or, like a shot put, do you find ideas heavy, laying up against you as you store energy to put them out into the world, having to do a bit of a shuffle, letting out a bit of a grunt or scream as you at last shove your creative burden out away from you some distance before it is measured by others?
Then there’s modern pentathlon. Never heard of it? That’s not surprising. The founder of the modern Olympic Games himself came up with it, and almost from the very beginning it has been unpopular with both audiences and the Olympic authorities. Points are accumulated by each athlete as the compete in brief competitions of fencing, equestrian, swimming, pistol shooting and running.
Modern pentathletes toil in obscurity, even among other Olympians. Their exploits and triumphs rarely make the news in this country. The glory of the sport is usually contained to personal triumphs.
Even the medal winners in this odd sport remain anonymous to the world in most cases.
Those medal winners usually excel in two or three of the five events, get by in another two, and are, frankly, deplorable in one of them. Their strengths must make up for their weaknesses. Those who are excellent in all five disciplines are rare individuals indeed.
So let’s review this event for a moment. A struggle often ignored by the public for being not sexy enough-it requires competitors to be at least adequate in multiple skills-form partnership with a powerful entity, be quick and skilled at striking with weapons while avoiding strikes from others, keep afloat despite fatigue, stay on target and call up reserves of endurance in a final run to the finish.
Oh, and even if you succeed, most people will never have heard of you, ever.
If this concept does yet sound familiar to you writers out there, you are either very lucky, or very new to the craft.
So then, is modern pentathlon the perfect Olympic metaphor for writers?
No. It’s close, but as I’ve shown you, all kinds of sports in the summer games have parallels with the writers life. In fact, all of them probably do in some way or another. Can you think of more?
But the best metaphor in this case is probably the Olympics themselves. Writers train, practice, want to give up. The usually don’t win medals and only even have a chance for glory every once in a while. Yet just being in the arena, with all the others, most of whom will never reach the podium is something they value. Something they must learn to value, or quit.
Most of us haven’t quit yet.