On Winning (A Love Letter)

I’m all in on the Olympics this month. (Read my blog post from earlier this week about my love of them here.)

And no matter what anybody says about brotherhood and world peace and all that jazz, the Olympics are about winning.  So, maybe the silver is kinda okay, but the bronze.  Bah-boom.*  Everybody wants the gold, right? You don’t get the cereal box if you don’t get the gold. You don’t get the lucrative endorsement.

You gotta go for the gold. For the win.

And as writers, so do we.

But here’s the deal: it is up to you to figure out what winning is for you. What’s your win?

My wise friend Angie often talks about defining what success means. For you. Not for the other writers in your writing group. For you.  Do you want:

To be a best-selling writer?

A contract with a traditional publisher?

To make a living writing?

To quietly write books that maybe only family and friends will read?

To write for fun?

To find satisfaction in journaling regularly?

To write a family history for posterity?

To get letters to the editor published?

To share your poetry?

To pump out as many books as you possibly can?

It doesn’t matter how you answer.  But answer honestly. Because writing success is a long game, and so you better make yourself happy while you’re doing it. Because otherwise, what is the point.

So while I’m engrossed in watching the Olympics this month, I’ll be thinking about my definition of writing success.  How about you?

* Here’s an interesting factoid for you: there’s actually an online sound dictionary! Here’s the link. I couldn’t figure out how to write the sound a buzzer would make, and I looked it up. And still didn’t find one that satisfied me, so used another. But, cool, huh?

Hey–I’m offering one lucky person a coaching slot for March. Email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com if you’re interested.

On Writing and the Olympics

I’m ready. I’ve got two projects I want to finish, one knitted, one crocheted, on the needles, and I’ve warned my husband that we’ll be eating our dinners in front of the TV for the next couple weeks.  Because: Olympics.  Because: Winter Olympics.

I love them.

I love watching the Olympics, especially the Winter Olympics.   I love the skating (all of it, from figure to racing), the skiing, the crazy jumping. Even the curling.  I love seeing the snow and how beautiful it all is.

I think I love it because I don’t do any of these sports. Oh, I took figure skating as a kid after the doctor told my Mom it would be good for my ankle after I broke it. My sister and I got matching-but-different-color skating skirts and went to the mall every Sunday afternoon to wobble around on the ice.

And I had a brief shining moment as a skier in college. I was so into it that I took a semester off school and lived and worked in Sun Valley one winter.  While I lived there that year, I got to see a World Cup race in person, which was pretty awesome.  As I recall, watching the races was easily accessible. These days it would probably be a mob scene.

And even though here in Portland we got tons of snow last year (well if tons means a dusting that shuts the city down every week) we don’t often see a lot of it.  This year, one storm on Christmas Eve that only succeeded in ruining everyone’s holiday plans.

So I watch these sports that are held on snow and ice every four years from the comfort of my home, likely holding knitting needles and a glass of wine. And, honestly? At this stage in my life I’m happy to be viewing from the comfort of my home.

What does this have to do with writing? One word: passion.  It takes passion by the truckload to become an Olympic champion and I submit it takes the same to become a writer.  Okay, so one is physical and one mainly mental.  Same trait, different arena.  And I think this has a lot to do with my fascination over the games.  I love stories of people excelling, no matter what they choose to excel at.

You and I won’t may not ever make an Olympic team.  But we can excel at our own personal writing.  How? One word at a time, one writing session at a time. Over and over and over again.

One of my favorite current promos for the Olympics shows skier Lindsay Vonn as she prepares for her competition.   It intersperses shots of her as a tiny little girl first on skies, with her kicking ass in the gym and flying down the ski slopes.  It reminds me, every time I see it, of what it takes to succeed.

Yeah, you can call it grit or determination or discipline or whatever you want. But all it really is for us writers is to sit down over and over and over again and return to the page.

 

Hey–join the Prolific and Prosperous Writers Facebook group.  Lots of good stuff going on over there.

And–I’m going to France for the month of March and taking a couple lucky clients with me. Metaphorically, people.  I’m committing to work with only 2 people while I’m there doing mostly writing and I’ve got one person lined up. So if you need some help with your writing, be it encouragement or editing, pop me a line at wordstrumpet@gmail.com.

 

It is Always the Story

Copyspace_space_copy_246205_l Yesterday, I wrote about watching the Winter Olympics and how Bode Miller winning gold inspired thoughts about stepping up to the plate.  

Today the subject is story.

My daughter and I were watching the men's ski cross races on Sunday night.  This is a relatively new sport, and, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it is the first time in the Olympics.  It doesn't have a lot of stars that we're yet familiar with and so NBC chose to focus on one of the Canadian men.  (I know, shocking–NBC actually featured an athlete who wasn't from the US!  It was because he grew up in Colorado but had a Canadian father.)

So, here's this new sport, which is mildly interesting, and a bunch of guys participating that nobody's ever heard of. I'm  watching with half an eye, catching up on emails and blog comments at the same time.  But then there's a slow moment in the action and NBC decides to run the pre-taped story about said Canadian, whose name is Chris Del Bosco.

And suddenly I'm paying attention.  Because this guy has a story.  From the time he was a wee boy, he showed a talent for skiing and racing.  But then, as a teen, he started drinking and doing drugs.  And suddenly he wasn't winning races anymore.  Pretty soon he wasn't even racing anymore.  This dark period ended with him so wasted one night that he fell into an ice-cold stream and if a passer-by hadn't found him he would have frozen to death.

He's bombed out of any ability to compete here in the states, but through a synchronicity, he heard that the Canadians were looking for guys to ski on the ski cross team.  And suddenly a new career opens up.  He's getting a second chance to do what he loves. 

And I'm rooting for him.  Suddenly, I'm completely and totally paying attention.  The computer is closed and set aside.  My eyes are glued to the TV.  Del Bosco easily qualifies for the finals.  I so desperately want him to win!  Alas, it is not to be.  Though it looks like he is coming from behind to win a medal, on one of the last bumps (jumps? not sure what they are called in this sport) he overestimates and ends up crashing.  

The point is this: I cared about Chris Del Bosco because NBC told me a story about him. Not only that, but the story they told had all the elements of a classic–amazing talent that, lots of conflict, the opportunity for a second chance.  I was right there with him because of it.

The thing I probably suggest the most when reading a client's manuscript is to take out narrative and put in more scene.  Scenes dramatize your writing and make it come alive.  A scene shows us something, instead of telling.  It presents a story. 

We respond to story because it is hard-wired into us.  From the beginning of human time, we've told stories to each other.  And still we do, whether on TV, a movie, or through reading a book.  The power of story is so powerful that it has become a cliche.

But sometimes cliches are good.  Because, ultimately, it always comes down to story.

What about you?  How do you use the power of story?  What have you gleaned from watching the Olympics? Or have you been ignoring them completely?

Rejection: Tempting the Fates

So, I wrote a post about Michael Phelps last week and how he used rejection and ridicule (who's laughing now, twitty teenagers who made fun of him?  Huh? Huh?) to spur himself on.  I mentioned that perhaps we writers could take a page from ol' Michael's book and use that same technique when we get rejected ourselves.

Ah, the universe is such a trickster.

Because it was only a few short days later that I got a rejection from an agent. 

This wasn't a nice rejection, where the agent makes a few pithy suggestions about how to improve the novel.  It wasn't even a rejection that was signed by the agent.  It was a flippin' form letter. 

I haven't gotten a form letter rejection in ages.  To make matters worse, this particular agent is known for representing many of the mentors and alumni of the MFA program I attended. 

And I get a flippin' form letter from her.

The funny thing is, I found the letter in the stack of mail and I knew.  First of all, the  SASEs are a dead give-away and immediately recognizable.  But I swear, the energy of the rejection was contained on the envelope itself, and I knew without even opening it what the result was going to be.

I whined and moaned a bit on Twitter and my tweeples cheered me up.  And then I realized I'd written that post about Michael Phelps and loftily suggested we all emulate him when it came to rejection.

So now I'm going to.  Watch out New York publishing world, cuz I'm mad!  I'm angry, and I'm inspired and, just like Michael (I think we can all call him Michael now, don't you?) I'm going to use this anger to fuel my success.

Oh, there's just one drawback that occurs to me.  Michael can train harder, swim harder, eat more calories for breakfast and go out there and break records all by his little own self.  I can write harder, write better, send my novel out more, obsess about eating too much for breakfast, and I still can't necessarily achieve success all by my little own self.  I need an agent. 

That's the rub about the publishing industry and the film biz–you can put your heart and soul into it and still you have to rely on someone else to recognize your brilliance. 

So I guess all I can do is do my best and work my hardest and let the universe, trickster that it is non-withstanding, make things happen.

And be grateful I don't have to spend hours every day swimming.  I love my man Michael, but I'm the worst swimmer in the world.

Do You Think He Needs A Ghostwriter?

Michael Phelps is writing a book.

I'm guessing, just a wild stab, that somewhere near Baltimore a ghostwriter hit the jackpot and will spend the next month hanging on every word Phelps says.  They are getting this baby out in time for Christmas, so its obvious Phelps is not going to write it himself. 

The book is going to be called Built to Succeed, and it'll outline his philosophy of training as well as his life being raised by a single mother.

By the way, that single mother is to blame for a wee little shopping spree I took yesterday.  Women of a certain age, such as myself, are greatly enamored of shopping at Chico's for a variety of reasons.  Chico's clothes have a certain, highly recognizable look to them.  Every time I saw Debbie Phelps sitting in the stands, I'd think, she's wearing Chico's.

Well, I was right.  And the company figured this out, too, and immediately put together the Debbie Phelps Collection on their website.

Pretty brilliant marketing, don't you think?

I was reading about that yesterday and thought, hmm, Chico's, its been awhile.  And I have coupons, too!  Maybe I could just take one tiny little look at the website….

And thus a shopping spree was born. 

I justified it by telling myself I need clothes for the upcoming orientation weekend at the Loft in Nashville, and its true.   And by the way, while I'm speaking of the Loft, our next semester kicks off on September 12th in Nashville.   There's no better way to learn to write than to study one on one with a mentor.

And I'll be stylin', too.

Take A Hint From Michael Phelps

I adore Michael Phelps almost as much as I love his mother.  I think I just love seeing the two of them together because it reminds me of my relationship with my own adored son, Lewis.  There's just something so unique about that mother-son relationship.  Of course, the mother-daughter relationship is special and unique also but that's for another post.

NBC had an extended interview with Phelps this evening, first with Phelps, his coach, and Rowdie Gaines (do we love that name or what?) and then with Phelps and his mother, who it turns out is a middle school principal in Baltimore. 

This interview was particularly illuminating because Phelps and his mother talked about how he was made fun of and bullied through much of his school career.   The other kids mocked his ears, mocked his dedication, mocked his "nerdiness."  But instead of this having a detrimental effect on him, it was actually quite the opposite.  It fueled him to work harder, swim faster, win more.

And this motivation continued throughout his career.  Every time people from other teams (especially those pesky French) talked trash to him in the run-up to the Olympics, he didn't let it get him down.  Instead, the comments motivated him.  His coach figured this out and handed him the articles, with the best quotes highlighted.  Michael would post them at the back of his locker and read them over and over again.

Now, me, I might hear the comments of those trash-talking French swimmers and wither.  I might decide that they are correct.  But Phelps took the opposite tack and we all know the result–8 gold medals at this Olympics only, 14 overall, the most ever by an Olympian. 

Just think about how our writing careers might take a huge leap forward if we used rejection as our fuel and motivation.  If, when you got a rejection from an agent for the novel you have loved and slaved over, you posted that rejection and read it every day and used it to fuel your determination to get your novel published.

I have to admit that I, for one, do not do that.  Instead I think about how stupid that agent is for rejecting me and then I start to wonder if maybe she is really smart and I'm the dumb one for submitting my novel in the first place.  And then I think some more and realize that my novel is such a huge piece of idiocy that even the post man was embarrassed to have to handle it and that I will never, ever, as long as I draw breath on this planet and no doubt any others, publish a novel.

So, hmmm, Phelps' approach or mine, which is the more useful?  Gosh, that's a no-brainer.

So I am going to try the Phelps approach to rejection and adversity.  I'm going to celebrate my next rejection because I will know that it is fueling my efforts to move forward and publish a novel.  I'm going to post that rejection on my bulletin board over my desk and read it often, instead of hiding it in a file cabinet, or burning it.

By the way, just in case, the universe or creator or source or God or goddess is reading this post, can I just say that I would really prefer not to have to put this to the test?  That I can live just fine without another rejection?

But just on the off chance there's another rejection in the offing, I'll let you know how the Phelps Theory works out for me.