Helga’s post #17 — I hope you are a tennis fan, watching the Australian Open on TV this week.
Tennis? Why am I watching TV when I should be writing? With only 12 days to the deadline? With a novel half-finished at best?
There are only so many hours I can spend at the computer. After that, my brain seizes up. The words refuse to flow. Enough.
So back to tennis. Even if you don’t watch it, chances are you heard the story anyway. Something unbelievable happened on Wednesday. Since I started writing this post, there has been a media frenzy around the event. You might have been more than a little astonished, or gobsmacked (depending on who you are rooting for), at what unfolded in the women’s quarterfinals. And yes, it does have something to do with writing. Because there is a lesson in it for all of us new writers. First, here’s what happened.
An incredible upset!
A teenager who had never been past the fourth round in a Grand Slam tournament beat the best player of her generation.
What was supposed to be a learning experience against one of the greatest tennis players in history turned instead into one of the bigger surprises in tennis history as 19-year-old Sloane Stephens introduced herself to a global audience by rallying to defeat her 31-year-old American elder, Serena Williams.
I loved watching that game and its outcome. It was like a fresh wind blowing over Rod Laver Arena when young Sloane burst on the scene. I almost didn’t watch the game because of its foregone conclusion that Serena would win. I had gotten bored of seeing the queen of tennis rack up the victories (and prize-money) over and over. In fairness, Serena did battle a back problem, which might have opened up some opportunities for Stephens. (Scant excuse though for gamesmanship of smashing her racket to smithereens.)
In an interview Stephens said she felt good about her chances before the match began.
“Last night I was thinking about it,” she said. “And someone asked me, ‘Do you think you can win?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ But I wasn’t too clear about it, and this morning when I got up I was like, ‘Dude, you can do this. Go out and play and do your best.”
And so she did. And went on to victory with grace and modesty. By Wednesday afternoon, she was busy fielding text messages and monitoring her growing number of Twitter followers shortly after the upset.
“It was 17,000, and now I have 35,000,” she said with a grin (it rose to over 58,000 a few hours later).
As an aside, I am hoping we’ll see a parallel in men’s tennis. It’s badly needed. Novak Djokovic, in spite, or rather because of his excellent technical skills, holds no surprise. His attitude has fans leaving in droves (more on that if you Google Djokovic Images.)
And what does this have to do with writing?
I think there are two lessons here:
First, it refutes the myth that underdogs can’t succeed. Never say ‘I can’t do it. There are so many excellent established authors out there, I will never be able to write and sell a book with all that fame and popularity.’
Secondly, the public welcomes newcomers. They keep tennis interesting. And new authors do the same for the book industry. Readers want new stories, new voices.
Think about it: How many novels do you read one after another, from the same author? Sure we all have our favorites. I love reading Stephen King, and Lee Child, and so many others. But if I would read too many in succession, I’d start to suffer from author-fatigue.
Am I the only one who feels this way? I believe not. I hope not. Because if readers in general are on the lookout for new stories written by yet unhyped authors, then we, the unsung heroes of the writing world will have a chance to succeed. Readers will take a chance with us if they believe we’ll give them a good read. There is plenty of room at the top.
Not to detract from the talent of these authors, but who would honestly want to read 80 James Patterson or Dean Koontz novels? Or the 200 plus by Nora Roberts? The list goes on.
Back to new writers: Looking at the Stephens interview above, we can easily exchange ‘writing’ for winning and playing and we get a powerful tool for success. Tennis is a mind game. Success depends on attitude. So does writing. I know that if I am in a funk I can’t write. That damn screen will stay blank, no matter how hard I try, no matter how often I open the fridge in search of another snack. To make matters worse, I might tell myself in my darkest moments, what’s the point writing when it looks like there are more writers than readers?
But if I can shake the misery out of my head and change my attitude, the words fly from the keyboard. The world is whole again and I feel I can do anything. And it shows in the writing.
So here’s my new mantra: ‘Dude, you can do this. Go and write and do your best.’ Well, if a 19-year old can depose the reigning champion, those words should bode well for me too.
As for our online challenge, regardless of how far we’ve come by February 5: what we, the 5 intrepid writers have worked on so diligently over the last five months will not be in vain. Because, as venerable author Philip Pullman once said:
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
So let’s weave them some stories!