By Akin Salawu, member of the 2008 Emerging Writers Group
I’m endlessly chastising myself for not writing as much as I could. When I’m lucky, I manage to maintain a regular writing schedule. Of course life, work, dating, the gym, and lately the Olympics are powerful distractions from writing.
Marveling at the determination and commitment of Olympic athletes has had me thinking I need to approach writing the way an Olympic athlete approaches training for their sport. Granted, athletes seem fundamentally different from artists, but we do share key challenges. Athletes and writers share an endless drive for improvement, an unquenchable passion for our respective disciplines, and we are constantly struggling to conquer ourselves.
Michael Phelps trained 365 days a year for 5 years straight without missing a single day. He told Piers Morgan: “If you wanna be the best, you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to do.”
A decade ago, I was much more disciplined about writing 4 hours every single day. Lately I’m lucky to get 2 hours a day. Since the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony I told myself I would get up at 5AM every day to write for 2 hours before leaving for work and then write for 2 more hours before going to bed. It has not been going so well.
For some reason, I find it easier to get to the gym every single day than I do to get in 4 hours of writing every day. The physiological benefits of exercise may far exceed the satisfaction of writing 4 hours a day. However, the endorphins released in the gym ought not be more powerful than the joy of writing.
Even training for my first triathlon 2 years ago came easier than writing 4 hours a day. But if I’m honest, my time in the gym is fairly mindless and I just have to get through the motions. The caliber of training achieved by Olympians is anything but mindless as writing is rarely mindless.
Yet forcing yourself to write when you are completely uninspired is truly grueling. Lack of inspiration suggests writing should perhaps not be approached the way an Olympic athlete trains. Phelps surely had countless mornings where jumping into the pool was the last thing he wanted to do. When we writers just aren’t feeling like writing, it’s just so easy to surrender. I sometimes tell myself, “It won’t be any good if I force it.”
Strangely, the first days back in the gym after being away for a while are truly brutal. But you know that as long as you keep going back, it will get progressively easier and more enjoyable. And every writer knows that the more diligently and consistently you face the blank page, finding that ever elusive inspiration gets progressively easier and more enjoyable.
And some days I fail. The writer in me occasionally fears failure. But then I remember the Michael Jordan quote up on the corkboard above my desk:
"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over in my life. And that's why I succeed!"
Akin Salawu is a Brooklyn based reality tv editor and sporadic triathlete working on a screenplay about a groundbreaking doctor at Harvard McLean.
This post is part of a weekly series from the Emerging Writers Group community of playwrights. The EWG is two-year playwriting fellowship at The Public Theater seeking to target playwrights at the earliest stages of their careers. In so doing, The Public hopes to create an artistic home for a diverse and exceptionally talented group of up-and-coming playwrights.