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Tennis lessons for writers

Advanced techniques for writers

Thinking about Wimbledon

Last week I got to go to Wimbledon for the first time – a life-long dream come true. I got the tickets (for 2020) for my birthday in 2019, and you can imagine how that went, so it’s been a tennis experience that was a long time coming!

Like many people I’ve been watching the tennis coverage from SW19 on TV too, a highlight of my year. I’m not usually a big sports fan so that made me think about why I like Wimbledon so much. It is partly the strawberries and cream aspect of course, partly because it takes place in London where I used to live, partly because of the ceremony, partly because I remember watching it from a young age.

The thing I find most fascinating, though, is the psychology – the tenacity shown by the players when they’re out there on their own – and the determination to win shown by the best of the best. And yes, I also love those seemingly impossible-to-reach shots, too, that somehow the best players manage to get to in regular moments of brilliance.

Lessons for the writing life

So that’s the context, but I wanted to write about something I’ve noticed more and more since the start of the Venus / Serena and Nadal / Federer era (and that amazing men’s singles final in 2008). I’m writing about it here because it’s pertinent when thinking about the writing life and about writing and mindset in particular. It’s this: the really great players get better when they’re losing.

This was especially noticeable in yesterday’s men’s singles final where Djokovic won against Kyrgios. They are both utterly brilliant, but Djokovic got better when he was losing, Kyrgios tended not to. This wasn’t simply (or even mainly) about points. Djokovic got more focused when he was losing too. And focus wasn’t a nice to have extra, it was noticeable yesterday that focus was his ultimate weapon. Notable for writers, he didn’t have to work harder – he’d already worked hard, that was in the bag.

I don’t know about you, but I would have trouble hitting the ball over the net, let alone playing a match, so I’m not about to criticise either of them. We watched Kyrgios in his quarter final on Wednesday and he was incredible – he clearly has enough focus to get into a grand slam final. All the same, I think this is an important skill for writers to learn.

Single-mindedness

Another skill I’ve notice in the top tennis players at Wimbledon is that they are single-minded. I’ve noticed this skill in bestselling career writers too. In fact, it seems that once you’ve reached a certain level of proficiency at writing, the more single-minded you are, the better you will do. Even if you can’t emulate that level of single-minded, you can do it to a certain extent.

So, in a nutshell, here are the three lessons writers can take from Wimbledon (for the purposes of this blog post anyway). To be great, you’ve got to:

  • Get better when you’re losing
  • Become more focused when you’re losing
  • Cultivate single-mindedness

Let’s take one of these: getting better when you’re losing. How does that apply to the writing life? One obvious way is when you’re facing rejection or multiple rejections. I wrote recently about the MOTOT concept (writing is always about more than one thing) which is certainly a useful idea when your work has been sent back. But more than that, ‘getting better when you’re losing’ isn’t only about resilience, it’s also a pathway to success. It’s how great tennis players win multiple tournaments. It’s how writers become bestselling authors, or become successful in whichever way you choose to define it.

Small Steps

Here are some possible small steps:

  • Redrafting a piece after it’s returned
  • Starting a new project / finishing an existing one
  • Seeking out a mentor
  • Turning up to write anyway
  • Joining a writing group

I’d love to know what you think of this idea. Please let me know in the comments.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. If you’d like more tips like these, take a look at the Small Steps Writing Guides.

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