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On What Athletes Can Teach Writers

What Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan can teach you about writing.

Photo by Eric Kilby (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You might say that sports and writing are like chalk and cheese — polar opposites — though today I bring you two quotes from two very different star athletes that I feel apply directly to writing.

The first, from Michael Jordan, the “greatest basketball player of all time.”

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

–Michael Jordan

You don’t get to be a six-time NBA champion without a few mistakes, a few false starts, and a few failed attempts along the way. The same can be said for writing. Consider the posts that sit in your trash — those few “failed attempts” that started with a spark that went dark. Consider those “false starts” at writing, those unfinished drafts that sit quietly in your dashboard, awaiting your return.

Wayne Gretzky, one of the greatest hockey players of all time, offers this:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

–Wayne Gretzky

Taken together, these two quotes can be a writerly recipe for success: you might “fail” at times, though you will fail 100% of the time if you stop trying to achieve your authorial dreams.

Having trouble getting started? Andrea Badgley offers some ideas on starting a daily writing practice.

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  1. When I saw the Michael Jordan quote, I thought, “There’s a Gretzky quote that goes with this really well, too!” Looks like you beat me to the punch. Great post, thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. My tin box is actually a notebook in which I write bits and pieces. Sometimes it is a word I like or a sentence. It could be a note about a book cover or a song. I keep it with me so I jot down a lot in there. I also write every day but have stopped posting on my blog every day so that took the pressure off and made writing more fun.

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  3. Having a travel blog, I always loved this quote from Amelia Earhart: “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”

    Also, I personally always loved The Pursuit of Happyness quote: “If you want something, go get it. Period.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s why the five handwritten books which currently residing in shoe boxes inside the closet and never seen by someone else’s eyes other than mine is going to be serialize by me this summer and publish in my blog. That is if I get through the hurdle of typing them over to my word document online. The thoughts of re typing hundreds of pages is quite daunting but why make it easy if it can be difficult, right? 😉

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    1. It might be really cool to publish them IN YOUR OWN HANDWRITING! Young people will be fascinated, esp. if it is in cursive since they seldom see cursive. Older folks might be nostalgic about reading a hand-written blog.

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  5. I often think of my track running days as fuel for this writing journey. It’s not so different. Discipline, determination and carrying boxes of books in the rain just like I ran laps in the rain!

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  6. The idea is to strive for excellence rather than perfection. MJ did not, and could not, achieve perfection, and really nobody can. But he did achieve excellence, and that is why he is remembered as the greatest.

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      1. Exactly! Aiming perfection is a lousy goal. This is a big reason people quit on new year resolutions, as soon as they miss a day at the gym or fall back to what they are trying to get away from, the failure is enough to convince them to stop trying.

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  7. Yes! Being a great athlete is about much more than physical prowess. It also requires mental stamina and toughness. Athletes in training must keep pushing. And in that pushing there is a certain inevitable self-talk that happens. Far from a professional athlete, I just started working out again 5 months ago but I can already feel this exercise driven self-talk creeping into my writing practice. It says “keep going…. try again…. work through the pain…make it count… stay focused.” In fact, I JUST wrote about this yesterday in my most recent blog post.

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    1. I was a professional athlete back in the day. A guy I competed with and grew up with became a world champion. Looking back, I realized that talented people were in a huge abundance. I was and so were many others I competed against. My friend just did more than we did. That extra effort pushes you towards where you want to go.

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  8. Yep, sports and writing have more in common than we think. I already have the Gretzky quote on my list of inspiring (writing) quotes (it comes in handy every time I waiver before submitting my work somewhere, thinking they’ll not want it anyway – you won’t get published 100% of times you don’t submit, if you like). I’ll add Michael Jordan’s.
    Great post, thank you!

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  9. Agreed. The road to success if overcoming failure and the only true failure is quitting. It’s not just in writing and sports. That’s life in any field of work. That’s why passion in your field of work is so important. It drives individuals to overcome fear and negativity and it promotes progression towards the future.

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  10. Great quotes! I often thought sports could help my writing. They practice and train everyday, they make a commitment, they put heart into it, and they see results. As writers we need to do the same … we could learn a lot from an athlete’s discipline.

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  11. I love this post, it resonates with me deeply. Funny enough, I’m an athlete and a (new) writer myself. During my Law degree I discovered my love of writing and a year and half after graduation, have decided to start my own blog 🙂

    I study athletes, actors, singers and entrepreneurs. One thing that I hear from them time and time again, is that we must fail our way to success. Mistakes are essential for our development and progress.

    J K Rowling summarised it neatly: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

    Please check out my post on what we can learn from Rihanna – http://ehsunanwar.com/2015/02/04/4-things-you-need-to-learn-from-rihanna/

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  12. I love this and completely agree. I am very involved in the fitness world and writing is a passion of mine, the two definitely have there similarities when it comes to motivation and efforts.

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  13. Thank you for a great post! You may fail if you try, but you are doomed if you don’t try! One should keep striving towards one’s goal treating hurdles as stumbling blocks and not as a dead end. And oh, don’t forget to enjoy what you are doing as the fun element in it builds up the excitement levels leading to some refreshing posts. While you are it, pay no attention to the people who try to clip your wings. 🙂

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  14. These are two great quotes that every writer can learn from, heck we ALL can learn from them period! Thanks for sharing this, it’s good encouragement when I’ve got a novel in progress, some other stories, and a 2nd poetry collection in the works. Never mind the promoting I need to do for the first. None of these will go anywhere if I don’t put in work.

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