“We know that we’re competing in a dying sport.”
- Leshinda Demus
I’ve been watching the Olympics nearly every night. Sometimes I like the stories about specific athletes, while other times I just want to see the events. But one story made a light bulb go off in my head. I made a connection between Olympic hopefuls and writers. While few of us writers can boast the physical strength and killer-bodies (I want those abs) of these athletes, we do have a few things in common:
These athletes work most of their lives for the long shot of winning gold—or at least a bronze medal. They put off normal jobs, salaries, and lives.
And what do they get if they win? How many wind up with small compensation and a shiny medal to admire? They know the odds. But many of them keep on going.
Isn’t that what’s in store for us?
Competition is fierce.
We can toil for years and never “qualify” (unagented)*.
We can qualify (agent), but not receive a medal (publishing contract).
There might be rumors of steroid use (bad reviews) or false starts (plagiarism).
We can receive a medal (publishing contract), but it’s only bronze (small advance, which we don’t make back).
Receiving a silver medal (midlist author) isn’t too shabby.
But receiving GOLD (big advance, which we make back, and appearing on the New York Times Bestseller List) is the ultimate achievement!
Do they appear on CNN as commentators (radio/TV interviews)?
Do they get to be in commercials (film adaptation)?
Do their names get placed on products (character action figures)?
Do they compete in the next Olympics (second book)?
Do they coach future Olympian-hopefuls (teach creative writing at a local college)?
Bottom line: few talented people make a big living off their talent.
Here’s my Olympian example for hard work with no guarantee of payoff:
This profile doesn’t tell you anything:
This is more revealing:
When she was nine years old, she told her teacher she’d be in the Olympics someday. She still holds the record for Hurdles at her high school. She continued to run in college and won championships.
Leshinda Demus qualified for the 2004 Olympics, but didn’t advance to the final.
She got pregnant. She was upset her pregnancy could derail her dream and guilty she felt derailed by her pregnancy. She had twins. She struggled to lose 50 lbs. She didn’t qualify for the 2008 Olympics.
She’s made a comeback since then, winning more championships. On 08/06, I watched Leshinda as her four-year-old twin boys cheered her on in the stands.
Leshinda Demus qualified...
What drives her?
Will she succeed on 08/08?
What will she do next?
Writers, what keeps you writing against all odds?
Keep going for the gold.
* And let’s acknowledge those families who sacrificed everything for the Olympic Hopeful (packaged mac ‘n cheese or takeout, dirty laundry…)