Writers: Soar Like an Olympian With These 4 Key Traits

Carol Tice

Rising to new challengesIt’s a season of epic athletic contests right now. The just past (awesome! Go Hawks!) Superbowl and the Winter Olympics have one thing in common: They take top athletes who’ve performed well all year on smaller stages and put them before the biggest audience they’ll ever have.

And then these pros — who have practiced untold hours and prepared for this moment often nearly their whole lives — have to choke down their fears and grab their shot at proving they’re the best.

You know what they remind me of? They’re like freelance writers who’ve been writing for their local biweekly who get that first national magazine assignment. Or small-business copywriters who finally snag a Fortune 500 client.

In every one of these epic athletic contests, when players go up a level, some reach deep inside and pull out amazing performances.

The best soar to new heights. While others crumble.

I’ve always been intrigued by the psychology of that. What makes the difference?

I think four things are key here:


Stuff happens in life and things don’t go according to plan. Sources don’t respond. You get the flu on a high-stakes deadline, or the day you have to skate your long program.

It’s not what happens, but how you react to it that makes you a champion. Think Nancy Kerrigan getting kneecapped and then still managing to win a medal.

You need the ability to roll with it and carry on to deliver when it really counts.

Belief in yourself

Recently in the Freelance Writers Den forums, a member commented that when she writes for clients, a voice in her head is saying, “I don’t deserve this. I’m just doing what others can do better.”

People, this cannot be the tape that’s playing in your head if you want to make it in the big leagues.

Know that you could not have come this far without talent and drive. You have worked hard for and deserve all your accomplishments. (And if you think everyone else is writing better than you, go down to your local Chamber of Commerce and read all the brochures. Eye-opening, hm?)

Not only that, but you can continue to excel and go beyond what you’ve done before.

Human beings always have more unrealized potential waiting for a chance to shine, as these Olympic athletes always show us.

It’s also realizing that the gold medalist is not the only winner. To not spend all your time judging your performance against others.

Listen to interviews with Olympic athletes, and you realize simply being able to put yourself out there and compete at an elite level — or being able to write for a living — is victory. The journey is really the reward.

An Olympic medal — or a national writing award — should only ever be the cherry on top.

Inner motivation

What makes those skaters hit the rink at 5 a.m. and go back after school for more? Nobody can drag you to all those practices against your will.

Nobody can make you write and rewrite and polish your draft when all your friends are at the movies or on Facebook or going to dinner parties.

That drive to write — and to write better, and better — can only come from you. No coach or class can give it to you.

If you don’t have it, when you get called up to the big leagues, you may just balk. You may pass. Happens all the time.

I’ve talked to so many writers who were invited to pitch a top magazine, and then just froze. You have to be willing to take more risk, to stretch, to dare yourself to be more, if you want to move up.


It’s always blown my mind how Olympic athletes do their routines while people cough, scream, walk past, and blast music or even crank their earsplitting air horns. Often, while their top competitors stand there and watch their every move. (At least we don’t usually have to deal with that!)

The true champions are completely in a zone. Nothing will throw them off their game.

Meeting an article deadline while your kids whine for snacks, the laundry is sitting in piles, you need a shower, and your favorite TV show is coming on? Same thing.

What traits do you think make a champion? Leave a comment and give us your take.


  1. Lisa Baker

    I think the most important thing for writers is the determination to put yourself out there. I used to book local bands at a little music venue, and I joked that I could tell by meeting the band’s frontman if they were going to make it. I didn’t even need to hear their music. I could tell by the way the frontman presented the band — by how confident he was when he talked about their music, by whether he could define their niche and what made their band different, by whether he grasped the the basics of marketing. And I think for writers it’s the same. If you market yourself continuously, ignoring rejections and going till you get a yes, eventually you’ll make it as a writer. You’ll learn what you need to one way or another.

  2. Rohi Shetty

    Hi Carol,

    The biggest takeaway from me from this post: “The journey is really the reward.”

    I tend to get blocked because of perfectionism and fear of failure.
    That’s because I focus too much on the product instead of writing and trusting the process and having fun with it.

    Another aspect of this principle is the old Zen saying: “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”

    Thanks a ton for your wonderful post – I needed an inspirational boost today before starting my writing session.

    • Carol Tice

      Love that quote, Rohi.

      I probably focus on that because I am one of those people who was always waiting to arrive. “As soon as I get X done, life will be good.”

      It took me way too long to figure out that we need to be happy in every moment, and enjoy all the aspects of our freelance writing life along the way to wherever we think we want to go…which may change, anyway, by the time we get there. πŸ˜‰

  3. Shari Held

    Hi Carol,

    This was a great post for where I’m at right now in my freelance career. I’ve been a member of the Den for a couple years now and a freelance writer for more than 10 years. I’ve made decent money, but it came at a cost–60 hour weeks, 2 am marathons, one day off a month. I kept trying to earn more by taking on more of the low-paying jobs I was doing. And my clients (mainly media) were more than happy to give me more. I was reliable, I was dependable, I turned in clean copy and I fact-checked.

    With thousands of clips and years of experience under my belt, it would seem that I’d be able to make the move to better markets, but I lacked confidence. Only recently, I’ve put to use what I’ve learned (by quietly lurking in the background) from the Den. And, painful as it was to “put myself out there” and talk to prospective clients like I needed to, it has resulted in several new clients. And at twice the $$ I would have earned in the past. My confidence has grown and I am finding myself almost eager to engage with clients and to introduce myself to editors via LOIs. Confidence is huge. And that’s the piece I was missing. I’m slowly working my way up the ladder–skyrocketing is not my style–and I’ve noticed a shift in the way I think and the way I tackle things.

    It’s a great feeling! And I don’t think I would have reached that place without all the support from the Den!

    Carry on the inspirational work!


    • Carol Tice

      Yay! πŸ˜‰

      It’s so true. Mediocre writers with swagger earn more than great writers with no confidence. You have to believe you belong in this career and have something valuable to offer, and be willing to tell people about it. That makes all the difference.

      Since 2008 when the economy went down, it became all-important. In the years before that, and before mills arose, it was so much easier to scare up gigs or just float along on word of mouth. The economy is in better shape now, but the Internet flattened the playing field and led to a need to market ourselves if we want real-pay gigs.

      • Tom Crawford

        Absolutely agree that things changed in 2008 (the economic contraction). Since then, writers need to understand how to market and sell (as well as the skills of the writing craft). It’s so important to go out into the marketplace and hunt for leads, send LOI’s and make connections.

        Another point is that marketing budgets shrank, so there is more need to find the opportunities – and I think there are still plenty out there (but as writers, we need to be more proactive in our marketing now).

        • Carol Tice

          I personally think shrinking budgets BENEFITED writers, vs doing big TV ad campaigns, for instance. Businesses found out content marketing is the affordable way to promote — that’s why it’s booming.

  4. Sophie Lizard

    “Meeting an article deadline while your kids whine for snacks, the laundry is sitting in piles, you need a shower, and your favorite TV show is coming on?” Um, Carol, are you in my house? Because that sounds awfully familiar!

    I completely agree that the pros (in athletics, writing and pretty much anything else) have to block out everything that isn’t relevant to their goal. I just wish there was a button on my laptop I could press for instant childcare while my daughter’s at home with mumps. :-/

    • Carol Tice

      Oohh…worst case scenario. The sick kid. My condolences!

      My kids are 11 and 12 now, and the sight of my computer being on still makes them run over and start insisting I print them out coloring pages.

      The ones that impress the most are always the gymnasts in Summer Olympics, where someone else’s floor exercise music starts blasting randomly in the middle of their flight through the air on the parallel bars…and they don’t miss a beat. Never ceases to amaze me how they do that.

  5. Debbie Kane

    Resilience is key and so is what I call “selective deafness.” It’s an ability to tune out all the naysayers and the negative self-talk and stumble forward. Sometimes I find myself submitting proposals for projects that I can’t believe I think I can do (and sometimes I know who else I’m up against). So I have to stay positive and not take it personally if I don’t get the project.

    • Carol Tice

      OMG…selective deafness! I’m so stealing that. πŸ˜‰

      I find my basic Alice-in-Wonderland, isn’t it all amazing, type attitude goes far. So that when a hospital calls me to write a recruiting package for nurses, and I’ve never covered healthcare as a reporter, or written for a hospital, or written recruiting materials, or interviewed nurses before, I say…”Sure, I could do that!”

      As we were recently saying on one Den thread, the secret is, if they call and think you can do it, you can.

      • Jovell

        “… the secret is, if they call and think you can do it, you can.”

        And here I am thinking why I keep attracting clients who aren’t in the niche I selected? I’m even on the brink of changing niches again because I’m thinking maybe my samples for that niche are not enough. Thank you Carol. πŸ™‚

    • Brian Kenyon

      Selective deafness is a good strategy for dealing with rejection. I like to think I’m staying in the zone, no matter what. Except when I take a peek at the amateurish website content written by the businessperson who says they’re satisfied with getting 30-40 inquiries and maybe 5-6 sales per month based on their website. Just that peek further convinces me I’m on the “write” track because I will convince the next businessperson/amateur writer that quality content can turn readers into customers.

  6. Sharon Reece

    Great post! I’d like to offer one other point. I believe you as a writer have to believe that you have something really important to say and that your way of saying it is important. Your unique perspective has value. I know I was truly gratified when the leader of a large worldwide ministry stood up at a recent conference and promoted our book (written jointly by my husband and me) to the crowd. He chose our book over others written by our colleagues. But whether he believes in its value or not, I need to believe in it first. That’s what motivates me to write when I could be doing so many other things.

    • Carol Tice

      I think that’s true with first-person or personal writing, Sharon, but not necessarily with freelance writing. We often write on many topics, and it’s not necessarily about our personal mission or passion to make a statement on a particular issue.

      It’s about applying our writing skill to the goals of our client. Certainly we each write in our own unique approach and style, and believing you bring something unique to the table is important!

  7. Linda

    I read in Linda Formichelli’s book (co-written with Diana Burnell) “Becoming a Confident Freelance Writer” that she observed the most talented freelance writers were also ones with the least self-confidence. It made me laugh. As I watch the Olympics, I hear Whitney Houston singing “One Moment in Time” as each athlete competes. And at one time I contemplated becoming a member of the Olympic Equestrian Team. Never happened, but the discipline and yes, resilience, belief in yourself, motivation and focus all played in the choices and decisions to compete. Especially so when you have a horse that requires those same traits too.

    Perhaps the most motivating thought that has driven me beyond obstacles and self-doubt is the scene in “Gone with the Wind” when Scarlett must confront her peers after they’re discovered her obsession with Ashley Wilkes. Although afraid, someone tells her she must face these people or she’ll never be able to again. So, with deep determination she steps into the crowd and faces her biggest fears.

    This is a great post. It’s spot-on with what every freelance writer needs to endure in a tough industry that holds the richest rewards when fears are conquered. Whatever the issue, these traits will truly push you through to success. Thanks Carol for writing this.

  8. Elke Feuer

    Great post, Carol! You hit the nail on the head. I think consistency and passion is what makes great champions. Even if you stink at something you’re passionate about, if you show up every day and work at getting better, you’re ahead of the competition.

  9. Bonnie Nicholls

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I think for me the biggest thing is putting myself out there and facing rejection. I have to do it, because I just quit my job to do this. What do I tell my husand when he comes home? That I’m not too scared? Yeah, I’m scared, but I have to get over it. A few weeks ago, a friend at a small agency asked me to write a video script. I’d never done that before, but what an opportunity. I said yes and then banged it out with more zeal than I’ve had in a long time. When the video is live, I can add that to my work samples. What a confidence booster.

    • Carol Tice

      Video scripts are a great niche, Bonnie — congrats on that!

    • Brian Kenyon

      Wow, that’s truly amazing, Bonnie. And, you’d never written a video script before? That is a bumper crop of confidence you’ve got growing..
      Isn’t it wonderful how quickly materializes on the Web? Last week I wrote a seed grant for a pastor starting a new church, and we’re waiting, hoping it gets approved. I had never written a grant before in my life. But figuring out how to do it (Grant-Writing for Dummies), I could see plenty more opportunities.
      Best of luck,

  10. Holly Bowne

    Continuous Improvement: Continually re-evaluating my performance with a critical eye. Where was I strong? Where do I need to improve? Then taking action to make it happen. Oh, and rewarding myself with some chocolate for the stuff I did right. (Olympians probably don’t get to do THAT either. Ha, ha!)

    • Carol Tice

      Oh, TOTALLY agree. Great addition to my list!

  11. Razwana

    This is great list of things to be armoured with! I must agree with Bonnie that facing rejection – and recovering – is also a huge piece. Not everyone will say yes. And when they say no? Find a way of dealing with it that doesn’t involve eating pound cake for 3 days straight and not speaking to another human being.

    I talk it out with friends – the best therapy !

  12. Joy Collado

    I love reading posts like this that give an extra nudge. πŸ™‚ Like a daily vitamins to keep me motivated and keep on working.

    In freelance writing, I think resilience is an important part. Freelance writing is a business, and to be able to succeed in business one must have an unparalleled resilience to keep coming back up in every stumbling block.

    Thanks Carol!

  13. DeChon Williams

    Thank you Carol for the post. After all the second guessing I finally decided to hang my shingle out as a freelance writer. This post is what I needed to give me “Believe in yourself” confidence to stop making excuses.

    This site is a real resource.

    Thanks for writing with patience. It finally clicked. I can’t wait to start using all your great advice to get results.


  1. 101 Writing Resources That'll Take You from Stuck to Unstoppable - […] 15. Soar past rejection with these Olympian traits. […]

Related Posts

LinkedIn Round-Up

LinkedIn Round-Up

Successful freelancers use LinkedIn daily. After all, it's the only social media where it's socially acceptable to talk about work. In honor of our upcoming bootcamp, LinkedIn Profile Mastery, we wanted to give you a round-up of all our posts on the topic of LinkedIn....