7 Lessons Writers Can Learn From Football


It’s football season. Yea! Or, maybe you said, “Nay!” Whether you’re a fan of the game or not, football holds some key lessons for writers.

LESSON 1: Aim carefully.

The target in football is to gain points by moving the ball over the goal line. The head coach and his players have a plan, a strategy, to score points and win the game.

Writers also need a goal and a plan. What do you want to accomplish with your writing? How will you prepare to reach your goal?

LESSON 2: Make wise decisions.

Football is about playing smart. For example, a quarterback decides to which player he will attempt to throw the football. A coach decides whether or not to play through a fourth down. A poor decision can cost points or even the game.

Fiction writers, above all, need to make wise decisions when they write. A poor decision in creating the plot, defining the characters, choosing a point-of-view . . . . can ruin the whole story.

unnamed.pngLESSON 3: Don’t be afraid to take chances.

It’s the last quarter of the game. Your team is down by seven points and the clock is ticking off the final seconds. The only chance to tie the game is for the quarterback to throw a Hail Mary Pass (a long pass toward the goal line) hoping that one of his players catches it and carries it in for the touchdown. He takes the chance. He throws—and it works! The pass is caught and carried.

If a writer feels that adding something extreme, and maybe even a bit crazy, feels right, then he or she should be willing to be creative and take a chance that editors and readers will love it.

LESSON 4: Learn from the “greats”.

Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Johnny Unitas . . . . these are a few of the greatest football players of all time. Today’s players learn by studying the skill sets of the “greats”.

Likewise, writers sharpen their craft by reading and studying the work of great authors.

LESSON 5: You can’t always win.

Coach Vince Lombardi said, “The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”

Think about it: Do you rise after you fall? If your book is rejected again and again will you keep getting up and moving toward your goal?

LESSON 6: Be respectful.

I’m a Green Bay Packers fan. I’ve always had respect for Coach Mike McCarthy, but last week after a bad call by the refs Coach McCarthy had a meltdown. He walked onto the field and shouted what I assume was profanity at a referee. His actions resulted in a 15-yard penalty for his team.

Like players and referees, authors and editors sometimes have salty relationships. Still, it’s important to show respect. A single tantrum can tarnish your reputation as someone who’s easy to work with.

gaming-laptops.jpgLESSON 7: Use the off-season to stay in shape.

What do football players do when they aren’t playing football? They’re working to stay in shape!

What do you do between writing projects? How do you stay fit to prepare for the next “game”?


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Five Benefits of a Solo Writer’s Retreat

cottageview. . . And it’s September! If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I took the summer off after a long stretch of freelance writing projects. I ended my break with a five-day solo writer’s retreat in Wisconsin’s north woods. By “solo” I mean a retreat without other writers, a getaway with a schedule and destination that I planned myself.

There are advantages to going solo.

Traveling to a specific destination with a project in mind guarantees inspiration.
I chose the north woods to gather ideas for a new, nature themed writing project. My destination, a quaint cottage nestled among towering pine trees just feet from a scenic lake (and with a screened porch!), provided the perfect environment to keep my thoughts centered on nature.

A new environment opens your eyes to unusual and even quirky details.

©WKOW, Madison WI

The northwoods has its own culture. Life is slow—most of the time. But in summer businesses rely on tourists. A love/hate relationship exists between the locals and travelers. The locals love the tourists’ money but hate the ways they disrupt the woodland’s peace and solitude.

On Labor Day, I saw long lines of people sitting curbside in front of restaurants and bars. They waved as cars went by. They must be waiting for a parade, I thought. Was I wrong! In the northwoods, it’s a Labor Day tradition for the locals to wave goodbye to the tourists as they exit, en masse, heading back to their homes in the south! That wonderful, quirky tradition might not make it into my nature-themed book, but I’ve tucked the idea away to use in the future.

You leave behind everyday distractions and maybe experience some new ones.

36c5257939994791c1e5d19f5d14c794l-m0xd-w640_h480_q80On Labor Day, watercraft—pontoon boats, jet skis, kayaks, speedboats, canoes— upset the otherwise peaceful inland lake. The pandemonium distracted my writing thoughts until I noticed how boats slicing through water changed the rhythmic sound of waves splashing on the shore. What I’d perceived as a distraction served to shift my focus to sounds in my environment and provided even more inspiration for my work in progress.

Solitude allows ideas to flow.
I began my retreat without expectations. Before leaving home, I had decided to let solitude to be my guide. I hadn’t planned what I would write. I had no schedule. As it turned out, I spent much of the retreat not writing but instead making notes and lists of ideas. Choosing to go solo provided plenty of time for ideas to flow, and I came home ready to write.

People don’t get in the way.
Don’t get me wrong, I like people. Some of my best friends are people! But sometimes people are a writer’s worst enemies. Writers’ conferences and organized retreats include critiques and times when writers gather to share inspiration and ideas. That’s all good, but people-time can diminish a writer’s ability to be totally into his or her retreat environment.

The best thing about a solo retreat is unplugging from all the people noise and immersing yourself in the sights, sounds, smells and culture that surround you.

My retreat ended with different emotions than those I’ve come away with after a writers’ conference. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with ideas and inspiration, I came home relaxed and intensely focused on my work in progress.

Have you ever taken a solo writer’s retreat?
How was your experience similar or different from mine?


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Five Ways to Ruin Your Writing Career—After Your First Book is Published

ProcrastinatingYou’ve published your first book. But be careful! Here are five ways you can ruin your writing career.

1 Stop Writing.
You’ve published your first book. You expected to sell thousands—but you didn’t. There’s that voice in your head, (You know the one.), “You’re not good enough! Give up.” Will you listen to it and stop writing, or will you pick yourself up and try even harder?

Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching. Rudyard Kipling was told he didn’t know how to use the English language. Scores of famous authors had their works rejected.

Don’t give up. Keep writing.

2 Oversell Your Book.
You’ve published your first book, and you’re so proud. On all the social media sites, you post about your book several times a day, day after day, week after week—and then you wonder why your book sales haven’t picked up.

Overselling can overwhelm potential readers (Think about those annoying ads that pop up on your favorite web sites. You just wish they would go away.)

Think beyond endless posts showing your book cover. Post a great review. Feature an interesting character. Be creative about garnering the interest of your audience. And don’t post too often.

3 Pester an Agent.
You’ve published your first book. Yea! Your agent pitched your book and got you the best deal—but it was a long road to publication. You wonder: if you had called your agent, texted, emailed and kept after him/her more often, would your book have been published sooner.

Think realistically. It takes time to pitch a book and find a publisher. Be appreciative that your agent placed your work. Along with being appreciative, be a team player. Be nice. Listen to your agent’s constructive criticism, and take it well. A good client/agent relationship leads to publishing more books.

4 Annoy an Editor.
You’ve published your first book—but the editor at the publishing house suggested tons of changes. You questioned most of them and even wondered about the editor’s competence. You preferred that every word stay exactly where you put it!

A first-time author’s first experience with an editor is humbling. It’s an editor’s job to make your book the best it can be, and there will be changes.

Changes fall into three categories.

  1. Why didn’t I think of that?

  2. It really doesn’t matter to me.

  3. No I don’t want to do that!

Learn to accept all changes in categories 1 and 2. If accepting a change ruins your vision for the book, (#3), then have a conversation with your editor.

5 Become Overly Confident.
You’ve published your first book, and now you’re an author—like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Michael Connelly. The title “author” means you’ve entered the publishing world, and you’ve nowhere to go but up.

Overconfidence can ruin your writing career. Your second book should be better than the first. Work at managing your ego. Keep learning. Even the most famous authors know there’s always room to improve.


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Filed under Encouragement, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized, writing, Writing goals, Writing Tips