How Coaching is like Writing a Novel

You may or may not know I am a track and field coach for the high school where I teach Spanish and English. It is a really small school with less than 250 students. All this to say, I didn’t need many qualifications when I was named head coach. To be fair, I did run track throughout my middle and high school career, was a part of setting 2 school records and on winning teams.

I coached middle school before high school and my highest achievement was winning a conference title with our girls’ team. When I moved up to boys’ Varsity, I had 7 young men on my team. We couldn’t fill every event. We had to make informed sacrifices – giving up some points to gain others. Now, I’m blessed to have between twenty and thirty athletes on my team – both boys and girls. I enjoy working with them, seeing them exalt in excellence and celebrate victory. But, it is just as satisfying to see how they handle loss and adversity. How they encourage and uphold each other.

It takes time to master hurdling. This was a senior. He wasn’t nearly this good as a freshman, but he never gave up!

So, how does all this equate to writing, and publishing, a novel?

First, start small. Don’t expect to write like a best-selling, award-winning writer on your first try. Many knowledgeable writers encourage short stories as a good starting point or as a concurrent exercise to writing a first novel. Short stories, just like coaching middle school or starting with shorter distances in practice, can give developing writers practice using different techniques or experimenting with new ideas. These early efforts can often spawn larger ideas or become reader magnets once a novel is published.

Also, don’t try to learn everything at once. Practice one or two new techniques at a time. Experiment with various points of view or genres until you find ones that work for you. Find craft and critique partners who will provide honest feedback on your writing. Help others. I learned more by critiquing the writing of other authors than by evaluating my own. Join a writing community. See this post on what membership in ACFW has meant to me. Novel.Academy is a resource for everything writing. They have been fantastic boosts to my knowledge, and provide encouragement and support.

Second, all the time practicing prior to running competitions, like all the time spent writing, attending conferences, finding crit and craft partners, and learning isn’t wasted. All those lessons learned during lean times, writing in obscurity, will be necessary once a novel is sold if you’re pursuing traditional publishing, or once you put that first book out as an indie. The clock starts ticking at that point and you’ll need all those ideas and adjacent lessons to market, grow your audience, and sell books. The years you used to spend editing and rewriting until the draft is as perfect as you can make it, will shrink to months once the pressure hits to get out the next book or submit then next draft.

Third, learning to overcome adversity, like a poor performance or unexpected injury in track or rejections from agents or editors or even poor reviews once you are published, will make your journey a more uplifting one. If we come to realize that a failure doesn’t mean the end of a dream, we can pick ourselves up and continue toward the goal.

I once had a relay team who dropped the baton on an exchange. I raced across the infield yelling, not because they dropped it, but because they didn’t pick it back up and finish the race. Was there a chance of winning? No. But by quitting, they put themselves in a mindset that if everything doesn’t go perfectly, it’s all right to give up.

It’s the same with writing. If we truly desire to be known as authors, we cannot let difficulties whether external or internal, deter us from our goal. The finish line is out there, waiting. No matter if two or ten or twenty years pass between the starting gun and your crossing that line, the end result will be the same. You will have finished the race. Sometimes just reaching that point is reward in itself, but I challenge you to think of one finish, not as the end, but rather, another place to start. Remember, there are many who begin the race, but only those who persevere will actually finish.

Don’t quit before you reach the finish. Whether first or last, getting to the line is still a victory!

I’d love to hear from others traversing this same race. What motivates you? What deflates your belief? Join the conversation here on on Twitter @rebeccareed22. If you want more encouragement, along with book recs and general news, sign up for my quarterly newsletter. You’ll receive a free fantasy short story for signing up as my thanks!

Thanks for reading! May your week be blessed with encouragement and motivation to stay the course.