You Have to Outlast the Others

Winning requires preparation and perseverance. Having some talent certainly helps, but it’s not the defining piece of any success story. Talent, as we know, only takes a person so far. However, what we don’t know – or so often neglect – is how far we’re willing to go when our talent runs out.

For instance, I’ve always been good at baseball. When I was a kid, I took to the sport very quickly. As soon as I could walk, I could also hold a baseball. And throw one too. Granted, learning to throw well took some time. I didn’t whip out four-seam fastballs right away – that took some effort and some growing. But, my ability to adapt and learn the game was always a cut above most everyone I competed with (or against). I wasn’t a prodigy, but I was definitely someone who could succeed if I stayed with the game long enough.

And that was just what I did: I stuck with it. When I was growing up, I met a lot of other naturally-gifted ballplayers. Many of whom were better than me. They seemed to hit home runs rather easily. They threw curveballs with an arc that seemed to defy all laws of physics. They could field, catch, and throw with a precision that looked predetermined. I was good, but I still wanted to be greater than they were.

Then, as I got older, something strange began to happen. My skills improved, yes, but the same standouts that kept me hanging around were falling off the radar. They were the same men, with the same names, but their skills somehow diminished overnight. At first, I thought it was only because was getting better. That somehow, I had eclipsed them and could now focus on a new enemy. But, it was more than that. Somewhere along the way, these fellow ballplayers – these prodigies of baseball – had plateaued. They had reached the peak of their natural gifts. And now, without the proper disciplines in place, they fell out of the sport and never returned.

Seems odd, doesn’t it? That despite all their accomplishments and their love of the game, they just up and left. Usually doing so because the going got tough. Looking back, what looks like a mystery actually makes a lot of sense.

For example, Mozart was known as a virtuoso. In the realm of music, he was a genius; highly skilled and possessing an innate knowledge of how strings, horns, and percussion should come together for perfect harmony. But, he also had discipline. The same can be said for Michael Jordan; a man who was cut from his high school basketball team (you probably know the rest of the story). It’s hard to imagine, but consider for a moment how many “unfinished works” there are. How many unrefined or incomplete talents have gone to the wayside because the discipline was the only thing lacking. I’m sure the number is impossible to count, but you get the idea.

If you want to be a success at something, you have to have more than just talent. You have to maintain the course. You simply have to outlast the others.

The NaNoWriMo cometh

I’ve been writing books for about three years now and I feel ashamed to say that I didn’t know about NaNoWriMo. November is “National Novel Writing Month”; a phenomenon that started about 14 years ago. Yes, it’s relatively new but I feel like I should have known about this. What’s more, I’ve discovered a whole website (where the NaNoWriMo comes from) that encourages and empowers any would-be or ambitious writer to finish a novel in a month by tracking progress via their website.

So here’s the deal: the competition asks that you write at least 50,000 words; a standard for short novels. But you must complete this task within the 30 day period of November. Gulp. If you break it down, that’s about 1,600 words a day. This post alone will be less than 400 words. Double gulp.

That’s a tall order for anybody to commit to. But in the spirit of competition, I’m going for it. And why not? Practice refines one’s skills. And what better way to practice than to put yourself to the test, right? In eight short days, I’ll be doing it.

On the plus side, I’ll have a group of fellow writers helping to keep me accountable. That’s a positive. On the negative end, some of us may lose hope, time, or focus to make it to the finish line. Here’s hoping none of that bad stuff happens. I know there are plenty of nay-sayers who are against writing a novel in a month, but I find this to be intriguing. So again – why not?

As I continue my search for representation, I realize more and more how I need to keep my head in the game. And a huge part of that is having structure; having clear goals; having a sense of completedness. As a writer, it’s easy to fall prey to “when I get around to it.” Anyone else who writes regularly can relate. Heck, anybody with goals can relate. That’s why competitions like NaNoWriMo are extremely helpful to aspiring writers. It provides a forum, a challenge, and a goal. Just what the doctor ordered.

And for the unstructured writer, it’s the perfect storm to stay on course.