I’ve always loved winter sports. You know, the ones that are highlighted in the Olympics. As a young person I would stay up way past my bedtime to watch things like luge and downhill skiing. One of the things I always love were those moments before the competitor took off down the icy stretches. They would always stand at the top of the track, eyes closed, head and body swaying gently side to side. To me these moments were just as intriguing as the downhill run itself. The athletes were visualizing what they were about to do. I wondered what was going on inside their heads.
Life is a competitive sport. Every day we face some sort of challenge. If we’re lucky these challenges are no more stressful than deciding what to wear to work. Sure, we have to do some organizing, some thinking ahead and planning how we’re going to get from morning coffee to light’s out at the end of the day, but we can handle it. We know pretty much how our day is going to go, whether we’ll run into traffic on the way to and from work, and how long we’ll have for lunch. We can be pretty confident that we’ll make it through to the end of the day without incident.
But what if you happen to be a writer or someone wrapped up in some other form of creative pursuit? Sometimes just thinking about attempting something big in life makes us quiver in our boots and wonder how on earth we can get things done.
I’ve been writing for decades, but it took me a long time to decide that I wanted to publish for real. Why? Why would someone who finds such joy in the act of writing shy away from what a lot of people consider to be the top of the mountain for writers? Well, if you would have asked me a couple of years ago I would have said it was because I just didn’t like the idea of pursuing something that is so subjective. I’ve always hated the idea that my relative success at something I love, something that is a part of my soul, would have to come at the say so of someone else’s opinion. I don’t like jumping through hoops.
But is that really it? A lot of things in life are subjective. Heck, going to a job interview and being hired for the most mundane job is a subjective process. You can look good on paper but ultimately it’s all about whether the hiring manager likes you. So that can’t be it.
What is it then? What keeps a writer or an artist or an athlete or an accountant going? What allows one person to succeed where so many others fail?
In my mind it all goes back to that skier or luger or bobsled guy at the top of the hill before the starting gun goes off. It’s all about how you see the path in front of you. You’d better believe that as the athlete is visualizing the course he’s going to take he’s not imagining himself hitting the gates or wiping out on a tough curve. He’s imagining a smooth run, planning exactly what he needs to do to make it across the finish line before everyone else.
Awesome. So how does that translate to the life of a writer or any other kind of artist?
Simple. You have to have confidence that you are going to make it. You have to believe and act on those beliefs.
That’s not to say that just anyone could grab a luge sled and visualize themselves winning an Olympic gold medal then zip off down the track and win. You have to learn what you’re doing and work on your skills. You have to practice. You have to listen to your coaches. Once you do all that then you’ll have the technique that you need to reach for your goal knowing that you are as prepared as anyone else.
The thing that made the biggest difference for me in switching from the belief that I was a good writer to believing that I will be a successful author was ultimately a tiny thing. I won an award for my writing. Well, that and I had a successful published writer make an off-hand comment that she regretted the fact that she had to be so general in the workshop she was teaching because she could see that a few of us, me included, were much more advanced than the others. That comment and the award made me stop and think “Hey! Maybe I am really good after all!” It’s amazing what a little outside validation can do.
I could have just sat there and basked in the glow of that validation and done nothing. That would have gotten me exactly nowhere. What I did was to grab hold of that confidence and push myself to the next step. I took what I had that I was now confident was good (my novel The Loyal Heart for which I won the award) and published it. Again, I could have just sat there and been all proud of myself for publishing something, but MORE beckoned to me.
I know I am going to be a successful writer. So what’s the difference between now and a couple of years ago when I grumbled about not wanting to publish because the publishing world was too subjective? Confidence. It’s all about confidence. I have had enough external validation to see that I am as good as I work to be. But more than that, I have enough internal confidence now that I’ve proved a few things to myself to keep going when I might have fumbled in the past.
I am friends with a lot of aspiring writers through social media outlets. I think all of you guys are great. Every once in a while though I see a few people who don’t have confidence in their ability or in their future as a writer. To you guys I say now is the time to stand at the top of the course, close your eyes and visualize the run. You can do it! See yourself putting in the hard work that’s needed for success. Hold onto the prize at the end, and the next run after that. If you believe in yourself and have confidence in your ability to rise to the top then there’s nothing that you can’t do.