Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Today's Business-2-Community website has an article on strategies to reach one's goals: Achieving Goals: Five Important Lessons from Michael Phelps. We all know Phelps is the world's greatest swimmer and arguably the world's greatest athlete. What this article focuses on is how he got there, and how we can all follow his example to plan out a strategy for achieving our own goals, whether they're in the pool, at work, or at the keyboard writing a novel, poem, essay, or other masterpiece.
Michael Phelps with his 2012 Olympic Gold Medals

The five lessons are:
1. Prepare for Success
2. Do Not Be Afraid to Announce Your Goals Publically
3. Work With Your Strengths and Weaknesses, Accentuating the Positives
4. Assemble a Team To Support You in Pursuing Your Goals
5. Never Give Up

Phelps began implementing these lessons as soon as he hit the pool at age 7. He prepared for his eventual success by putting in long, hard hours in the pool and in the gym. He didn't look for short cuts and he didn't settle for just being the best in his club, state, region, or in the U.S. He didn't settle for less than his goal and he put in all the years of work that entails. He announced his intentions publicly, setting himself up for spectacular failures and ridicule if he didn't continue to prepare and work to improve his weaknesses and enhance his strengths. Forget peer pressure. By announcing his intentions to "three-peat" or win the most golds in a single Olympics, or any of his other seemingly brash announcements, Phelps put the pressure on himself to not end up looking foolish. What great motivation that is!

Phelps also made sure he had a support team that was able to bring out the best in him, overcome the worst, and help him achieve his goals. That didn't mean surrounding himself with sycophants and cheerleaders. He stayed with the coach that pushed him, even when they butted heads, because he knew he needed discipline, not back patting. His friend and teammate Ryan Lochte was a threat to his standing and to his public announcements of his intentions. He used that competition to fuel his drive. And he had his mother's love, support, encouragement,. I'm sure some mornings, that included nagging him to get out of bed,  making sure he didn't give up because he was tired, sore, or just not feeling motivated that day, and in other ways, doing things that mothers do, even when we find them unpleasant (thanks, moms!) Most of all, no matter the obstacles, no matter the whispered wonderings if he still had "it" in him, Michael Phelps never quit, never gave up until he achieved all of his swimming goals.

As writers, we can apply these lessons, and emulate the role model Phelps provides, in our own endeavors.

Prepare for success. We have to work on our craft always. We can and should continue to improve, learn more, try new things, all with our eye on the ultimate prize of publishing works we're proud of, not just publishing for the sake of publishing. That means we have to plan out a multi-year, multi-decade strategy. We have to expect and learn from failure, from rejection. Great swimmers are made through years of practice and from losing a few races along the way. So are great writers. Very few of us can sit down at the computer and pump out a complete, finished, well-written novel on our first try. Be prepared to shove the first two or three attempts in a drawer, never to see the light of day again (unless of course it's to remind ourselves, molnths and years later, how far we've come!)

Don't be afraid to announce our goals publicly. Those first tenuous steps at sharing our work or our ambition to become a writer with other people are difficult. Will our friends and family mock us? Will they think we're crazy? How will we respond when someone asks, "What have you written?" and we have nothing but dozens of unpublished stories on our hard drives? But announcing our goals publicly, boldly stating, "I want to be a writer, poet, novelist," is the first step in turning our dream into a reality. "I want to write a novel, so first I have to practice, hone my skills, and make the time to write." Only then can we firmly plot out our next steps and move forward with our plan. Without this public announcement, we will have a difficult time building the support team needed and committing to the work and the sacrifices ahead as we pursue our dreams.

Work with our strengths and weaknesses, accentuating the positives. Knowing our weaknesses as writers helps us to overcome those. The critical point in this statement, however, is "accentuate the positives." Maybe it's something in the writer's psyche, but we do seem to focus on our weaknesses, wallow in them, fret over them, and often, let them silence us. We have to learn to see those weaknesses and address them, but then see through them to our strengths, and embrace and be emboldened by those. Vivid imagination? Use it. Traumatic childhood? Use it. Love affair with words? Embrace it. Accentuating the positives can get us through those rough days when we wonder why we're sitting at the computer, staring at an empty screen, or deleting pages and pages of sub-par work from the day before. We don't do those things because we can't write, we do those things because we know we can write better.

Assemble a team to support you in pursuing your goals. Using Phelps, or any outstanding athlete as an example, consider who has to be on your team. Yes, it's important to have a few cheerleaders around to help when morale sinks, but it's even more important to have a demanding coach who will bring out the best in us and give us an honest assessment of what we need to work on. Find a writing coach or partner in a local or online writing group, or take some classes. Find an editor who is both brutally honest and encouraging, as needed. Depending on your goals, your team might include an agent, a publisher, or magazine editors. And don't forget to include teammates--others who are going through what you are, who understand what it means to lock yourself in your room and give free rein to the voices in your head.  The Internet Writing Workshop is a great place to find all of these and start building a support team.

Finally, never give up. Critiquers will rip our work apart. Rejections will come. Each time we write something, we'll think we're at the top of our game. Until we read it a few weeks or months later. As I learned working in sales, a goal isn't a place to stop, it's a place to start. Once we've achieved our initial goal, it's time to up the ante. Try harder, shoot for more. If we get rejections, we'll improve what we wrote. If we get published, we'll write something even better next time. We'll never give up.

Sadly, we won't be able to follow Phelps's 12,000 calorie/day diet as we pursue our sedentary sport of writing, but at least we can follow his lessons for swimming success to achieve our own writing goals.

Write on!



  1. Good post :) While my family is generally supportive of my writing, the IWW is really my main support network.

  2. Thanks, K. - IWW has become "second family" for my writing life. As supportive as hubby dearest is, it's not quite the same as having that whole community who run the gamut from brand-spanking newbie to successfully published and known authors in all genres. I can't say enough what a fabulous group it is!

  3. What do you mean I can't follow the 12,000 calorie a day diet? Of course, I can. I can do anything. Oh, look. Fried chicken being chased by some gangling gerund.

    1. : ) Keep chasing those gangling gerunds, Rick...I hear it burns a lot of calories!

  4. I agree with you about knocks. When the editor rejected my sequel, I was stunnded for about two seconds. Then, I set to work improving all the things he pointed out in the plot. He did me the great service of acting as cheer-leader too by saying he believed the re-written story could be even better than the first.
    At the moment, I'm swimming length after length of the pool doing exhausting work, chapter by chapter, to replace repeated words. I want to give up. I'm tired. My eyes are strained. But the end is in sight. Only 15 more chapters. I can't give up now. The next stage will be another slog: Reading the words out loud for flow.
    Lord, give me the strength to reach my goal.

    1. So close, Francene -- congratulations and keep at it, only a few more laps to go! I just received another rejection, so am back on the starting blocks with queries : (