Mikaela Shiffrin is a world champion downhill skier. I’m a struggling novelist. Think of it this way: she races at tremendous speed down snow-covered mountains, I mosey across pages while sitting in a cushy chair. Her body moves at 80 miles per hour while mine can spend 80 hours not moving at all. Although we both work on steep white spaces (consider the angle of the white page on the screen), how could a slowly writer like me find resonance in the words of a young super athlete?
Here is what she said about getting down a tough racecourse: “Things you don’t expect come up and you have to adapt. You can’t let it throw you off. You have to cope….”
- Bad Snow Distraction. Patches of melting snow, afternoon shadows, and unexpected ice probably distract a skier a lot like social media and mindless internet ‘news’ articles with their attendant photo galleries distract writers. Spending the day with a computer that has access to pictures of The Royal Baby can undermine the most self-disciplined among us.
- Racing on a Tough Course. Skiers race on courses full of tight turns, just as many writers have day jobs as well as family responsibilities. The gold medal does not care how many gates a skier manages to clear any more than a publishing house cares how many obligations an author juggles. Skiers scope out the course before the race and writers can block out time on their calendars.
- The Dreaded Wipeout. We’ve all watched coverage of skiers who lost their edge and went careening off the race course, out of the race, and possibly out of the sport for surgery and rehab. A writer can be thrown off-course by devastating events that sap their emotional energy. Without emotional capacity a writer cannot connect to the story and if I appear to be harping on this, it is because I recently spent a lot of time in writer’s wipeout.
Mikaela’s words resonated because she reinforced what I’ve been thinking: nothing that happens to set me back will ever be made right. The bottom line is, if I want to reach my goals I must do everything I have been doing, plus address my setbacks: working smart, striving for self-discipline, planning ahead, and praying to the setback gods to spare me from wipeout. But I will save my setback stories because they do win points at author talks.