March Madness: What Authors Can Learn from Athletes by Andrea Dunlop

Posted by April 2nd, 2014

March MadnessTo the uninitiated (read: me) the frenzy surrounding the NCAA basketball tournament can seem like, well, madness. But as my best hope of spending time with my boyfriend this time of year is to settle in for a game or thirty, I figured I’d better give the sport a shot. Somewhere between my diatribe about how Charles Barkley should really reconsider his three-piece suits and choking up during an NCAA commercial, I started to get into March Madness. The thrill of victory! The rivalries! The copious man tears during post-game press conferences!

I’m a sucker for sports. I’ve been both a writer and an athlete for most of my life and in some ways I feel like what I learned on the tennis court has been as helpful as anything I learned in the classroom. You may not think that writing a novel and sinking a sweet three-pointer at the buzzer have much in common, but you, my friend, would be wrong.

Greatness is mostly about discipline
Some people mistake the act of creating for divine inspiration that descends from the heavens, a muse that lands on your shoulder and whispers in your ear. Some think writing is a natural talent that you are born with. To which I say: pffffftttt. Of course individuals are born with varying degrees of innate talent for writing, basketball, singing, clog dancing, or whatever, but that’s only the raw material. The rest is craft, muscle memory, technique. HARD WORK. For writers, this means waking up in the morning and putting your butt in your chair, over and over again, until you have something good. It means reading everything you can get your hands on. It means attacking your writing with the dogged discipline that a point guard practices his free throws.

Resilience is key
One of the most valuable things I learned from sports was how to bounce back. After a devastating loss—one where your teammates and classmates are counting on you, where the stakes are high and you choke big time—it can be tempting to literally take your ball and go home. For good. Anyone who has been through the process of submitting a novel to agents or publishers will not have to make much of a leap to know where I’m going with this one. Rejection hurts, it can feel like an almost physical blow when you open that email that says, “Thank you for submitting Your Great American Novel, unfortunately…” but you have to find a way to carry on. You have to work to stay in touch with the part of you that says, “I must do this.” Get back up and fight another day.

It’s not all about the glory  
Sure, some of the guys playing for powerhouses like Florida and Kansas will go on to illustrious careers in the NBA, but for most college players the only reason the public will remember them in a year is if they do something embarrassing like sob into their terrible mustache after a tough loss. For the average player from say, Dayton, this is as good as it’s going to get and you can bet they’re loving every second. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big—it can big an excellent motivator, just as your dreams of publication can be as well. But ultimately, you have to do it for the love.

Furthermore…

It’s not about money
What supposedly makes college ball purer and more fun to watch than the NBA is that you don’t have high-salaried players showboating and making it all about them. It’s about the sport, not the cash. Clients often ask me what their chances are of making money off of their book. Oh, friend, even if your book is beautifully written, perfectly plotted, and masterfully rendered . . . make money? You might want to think about trying something more realistic to earn a living, like raising Arabian horses. Of course, you should do your best to find readers, to sell books, and to promote your work, but it should never be about that. Book sales are capricious at best—it should always come back to love and dedication.

Be a good competitor
It always gets me right here when the opposing teams congratulate each other at the end of a basketball game. I love a show of good sportsmanship, of bromance forged in battle. The world of book publishing (especially if you live in a place like New York where everything from dating to riding the subway feels like a competitive sport) can feel ruthless at times. But writers are always better off supporting each other than tearing one another down. First of all, a bad reputation will not serve you. Furthermore, writing can be a lonely life and the more friends you make who can truly empathize, the better. So give blurbs, review and recommend other people’s work, show up to events, support your community. Be the person everyone is rooting for, and keep working hard.

About Andrea Dunlop and Girl Friday Productions

Andrea Dunlop portraitAndrea Dunlop began her career at Random House in New York, where she worked as a publicist for Doubleday. As Girl Friday’s Publicity and Social Media Coordinator, Andrea works with books and authors across a broad swath of subjects including literary and commercial fiction, memoir, and non-fiction, helping her clients to establish clear brands and build platforms through social media. Last fall Andrea put together a list of the Top Five Golden Rules of Social Media for Authors for the Book Country blog–be sure and read her tips!

Girl Friday Productions began its life as a boutique editorial firm, and has evolved into a full-service editing, writing, and book-marketing firm. They help authors and publishers with everything from editing their novels and crafting winning proposals for their non-fiction projects to marketing their work through traditional and social media outlets, and more. In addition to a full-time staff of thirteen, Girl Friday employs a team of resource partners across the country who provide everything from copyediting and proofing to book and web-design services. Keep up with Andrea on Book Country and Twitter, and check out the awesome resources for writers via the Girl Friday blog and Twitter stream.

How do you pick yourself up again after a writing setback? Tell us about it on the Book Country Discussion Boards.

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