The Olympics and Writers

Hello from the midst of summer vacation! I’m traveling now and don’t have a regular Internet connection, but this is to remind you that I’m still here, and regular posts to this blog should begin again at the end of September when I’m back at my desk.

I’m generally an “asportal” person, but when the Olympics roll around, we’re all affected. The Olympics bring the world together, but they also serve as a kind of cadence or set of mileposts for our lives. When we think back through the years, we remember who we were and what our lives were like when such-and-such an athlete was on everyone’s mind. Just today, a friend of mine said, “The Olympics are more than just sports.” That’s true, and I think I’ll leave it to you to interpret that idea however you want to.

I was surprised to note that Lang Ping, now known as “Jenny,” is coaching the U.S. women’s volleyball team! I’ve never forgotten Lang Ping from the 1984 summer Olympics, when watching the women’s volleyball at those games was a happy pastime for me as I lay around in the hospital recovering from a hernia operation. That year, the Chinese women (of whom Lang Ping was one) won the gold medal, defeating the U.S. in the final match. According to what the commentator said yesterday, she became tired of her fame in China, tired of always being recognized, so she moved to the U.S. for a life of relative anonymity. But apparently she wasn’t meant to be apart from Olympic volleyball!

Anyway — for us as writers, there’s a lesson to be learned from the Olympics. If you want to win a gold medal, your whole life has to be about doing what you’re best at. Think of the intense focus these athletes fix upon their respective disciplines. If we aspire to write books that will touch the lives of readers everywhere, that’s what we need to do.

However, I do find myself wishing our task were as clear-cut as that of an athlete training for the Olympics. In sports, what you need to do is clear; and if you don’t quite grasp it yourself, you have a coach who does and will tell you. You just have to do things over and over until you can do them perfectly. Studying Greek in college was like training for the Olympics.

Writing, on the other hand, is a murkier prospect. There are no absolutes about the right thing to do, other than that you need to keep writing. Who knows if you’ve got a good idea? Who knows what the right way to execute it is? When you’re finished, if it doesn’t immediately knock readers off their feet, who knows precisely what’s wrong with it and how to fix it?

Not long ago I took a personality test, and one part of the results, I thought, was quite insightful: it said I’m capable of making tremendous effort, but that I often do that in directions that don’t necessarily do any good or produce the results I want. The more I think about that, the truer I find it to be. Oh, I can move mountains (with the help of God) — but whether the mountain is standing at point A or point B, so what? I can scoop water out of the ocean for days on end, cup after cup after cup. Oh, for clear tasks to bend our efforts toward!

Here, then, is an often-overlooked aspect of what writers ought to pray:

Oh, Lord, send us clear vision and good coaches.

Keep your noses to the grindstone, all you who would write for an audience. Let’s press on for the gold!


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4 Responses to “The Olympics and Writers”

  1. I write sports Says:

    Great to hear from Fred, who I am sorry to have missed in Taylorville by only a week.
    The Olympics, eh? As I am likely the only responder to this blog who is actually a sports editor, I was thrilled to see Fred touch on the subject. I have three columns published about the Beijing Games. Send a request to: if you are interested …
    I could go on and on, but this isn’t a sports blog, so …

    p.s. — I happen to now Fred’s affinity for volleyball extends back to the seventh grade, when a certain (not omitted to protect the innocent) played for the Terriers

  2. unico Says:

    Hi from Japan!

    Is everything OK there?

    Your photos are very nice.

    I like them.

  3. Catherine Says:

    Inspiring. Truly inspiring. Though I wouldn’t know; I’m just a scribbler who writes for whichever family member I can force through one of my stories. Oh, wait — I just looked at your post again and you said “all you who WOULD write for an audience”. All right, I guess I fit in that category…now to see if I can ever actually stick to something.

    Enjoy your vacation.

  4. Tandemcat Says:

    Audience is everything, in terms of purpose. _Why_ do we write? For _whom_? If we know the answers to those questions, the grindstone can become a joy.

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