My husband and I went to the same high school, and we both had a great relationship with the football coach. Coach was a great motivator, our school’s psychology teacher, and the Master of the Mantra. He had catch phrases for everything. And strangely, I find them applicable to a lot of things in life. Especially writing.
So maybe we writers need to pretend Coach is here, pushing us along, and finding ways to make us better. Here’s how I think his mantras work for writers:
T.E.A.M (Together Everyone Achieves More): For a manuscript to be “good,” it can’t be a solitary endeavor. You need beta readers, critique partners, and other folks to help you see and correct your mistakes.
Scout the Competition: Don’t think of other authors as competition. We’re not in this business to beat anyone out of anything. BUT, it’s important to know what’s already in the market. Read in your genre to know if your idea is original. Read out of your genre to learn other writing styles. Scouting will make your own product better.
Triple Days (or Hell Week): You can’t sit down and write a perfect novel on your first try. It takes practice, failure, exhaustion, and experience to build up your writing muscles. Just as Triple Days test an athlete’s endurance, strength and muscle capacity, writing everyday will help you improve your craft.
W.I.N (What’s Important Now): For football players, W.I.N was a mentality or a state of focus. They stepped on the field, and pushed away thoughts of the cheerleaders in short skirts, the screams of the crowd, and the beastly lineman who intended to take their head off. Writers need a W.I.N mentality too. Put in your ear buds, turn on a movie for the kids (I know…mom guilt), ignore the buzzing of the dryer. Sometimes to get through a tough chapter or scene, we have to narrow our focus to what we’re working on now.
Pound the Rock: The theory behind “pound the rock” is that if you run the ball and get four yards every time, you’ll get a first down and a chance to continue your offensive strike. It’s slow, it isn’t dynamic, there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for big, down field, Hail Mary-type plays, but you still get into the end zone. Writing is a lot like pounding the rock. Make small advances consistently and you’ll reach your goal.
Cheerleaders and Booster Clubs: It’s always nice to know that someone is behind you — that you have your own personal cheer squad — who believes in you and will support you even when you’re not “winning.” Rejection (and loss) is a hard thing to take alone. Our coach had a special “Thank You” dinner each year for the varsity football players and cheerleaders. Being grateful to your supporters is important too.
County Fair: Our school had a tradition that at the end of practice, the coach or team captains would pick two people to go one-on-one. One guy would have the ball and the other guy had to stop him. Sometimes it was totally unfair, like a senior lineman versus a sophomore running back. Generally, it ended with the sophomore flat on his back, staring at the sky and trying to figure out which body parts he was missing (and he usually got picked because he was cocky, by the way). Every now and then, a small guy would juke around the lineman and get into the end zone. Much butt patting ensued.
The publishing industry is a lot like County Fair. You’ve been through Hell Week, you’ve scouted the competition, you know the play book, and sometimes you’ve got to take a chance. You may end up like the pancaked sophomore, but every now and then a new player can slip through to the end zone and score. But unless you step up and take the chance, you’ll never know what your writing is capable of.
Maybe none of Coach’s mantra’s will work for you. Maybe you have one of your own. Either way, I think the most imporant thing in your pursuit to published is that you stay optimistic and keep at it. No one could doubt Coach’s wisdom in that.