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:

Resilience

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.

Focus

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.

25 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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,
      Brian

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

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