Six ways writers are like Olympic athletes

When the Australian world champion swimmer dubbed ‘The Missile’ swam a time dramatically slower than expected in the 4X100m freestyle relay at the London Olympics this week — resulting in NO MEDAL (shock! horror!) — the media furor was pretty shocking. “What happened?” everyone wanted to know, the implicit meaning being: How could you do this to us?

But do the media honestly think there could have been anyone more shattered than James himself? As I watched the poor guy, head in hands, bewildered, confidence shattered, it struck me that there are several parallels that can be drawn between athletes and writers.

1. Both athletes and writers will come down on themselves much harder than anyone else could.

2. Both athletes and writers have to combat and conquer the demons of doubt when they least expect it.

3. Both athletes and writers must push themselves and be disciplined in order to succeed. Talent will only get them so far; the rest is sheer perseverance.

4. Most athletes and writers must treat their vocation as a second career, while holding down full-time jobs.

5. I reckon an athlete’s training regime must be akin to writing the first draft of a novel, with meets like the Olympics akin to having a book published.

6. Many athletes will not make the Olympics, just as many writers will never be published… Of those who DO make the Olympics, most will not win a medal, just as most published writers will not be best-sellers. The amazing high of winning Olympic medals or authoring a best-seller is reserved for a tiny minority.

Of course, there are just as many — probably more — ways in which these professions are not similar, but the above parallels are interesting.

Any thoughts, my friends? Can anyone come up with some other parallels I haven’t thought of? Please share your thoughts.


10 thoughts on “Six ways writers are like Olympic athletes

  1. Ellen, you are spot on with your comparisons. I especially like #1! Of course we all want validation and recognition, but when we’ve done the very best we can (at a particular place and time), that is a reward in itself. I mean, let’s face it, there’s always going to be someone better, more famous, or whatever. The only way to stay sane is to focus our efforts in bettering our craft. Writing a better story than our last one. 😉


  2. Both writers and athletes are torn to shreds by reviewers, commentators, and the man on the street when they fail to perform up to expectation. 😛

    I know that sounds very sour but I’m very frustrated with the sensationalized post-mortems of athletes’ performances by the media. I hate the way they grab losing swimmers right after the race to ask ‘What went wrong?’ and focus in on the crying, sad faces of those who have suffered disappointment. At least writers can nurse their wounds in private.

    I love the Olympics, but I am so sad for those whose hopes are dashed. 😦


    1. I totally agree. No doubt your media is just as bad as ours… The pressure they put on our athletes is terrible! When a silver medal seems like a failure, there’s something wrong. As you say, at least our pangs are more private!


    2. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’ve seen a horrid amount of spite today in regards to South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius — he’s a double amputee who runs with prosthetic legs. People are calling him a cheater and saying his prosthetics give him an unfair advantage. He didn’t even make it to the semifinals for his races, and his times barely qualified him for the games, yet people insist on relegating him to the Paralympics and saying horrible things about his character and even his psyche. What I saw on that man’s face as he finished second in his heat in the 400m qualifiers was nothing short of pure beauty — a dream fulfilled.

      That’s what it’s about.


      1. I hear you! You should see what the Australian media is saying about the fact we ‘only’ have one gold medal. The number of silver medallists who are deemed to have ‘failed’ is shocking. I think all competitors, especially double amputees who are surely disadvantaged, having, you know, body parts missing (!), are amazing.


  3. I’ll be honest and admit that I kind’ve really like comparing myself to an Olympic athlete! Yes, yes, yes on 1-6, although I did think of one way in which writers have the advantage. Which is to say that when we fail to quality or are left at the starting line with book in hands, we generally get to weep and bemoan “the injustice of it all” in private, rather than with a microphone planted to our lips and the entire world in our face 😦


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