On Winter Olympics, Steven Bradbury and *that* gold medal

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Although I haven’t watched much of the Winter Olympics this year, I did happen across an article about Steven Bradbury talking about *that win*. He seems destined to have his story pulled out of the proverbial closet and given a dust off every four years. And why not? It’s a cracker of a story and has become somewhat of an Australian folktale – the incredible string of luck that led to a miraculous win.

For those of you who aren’t Australian (and I’m sorry for those Aussies who’ve heard this story a bazillion times) Steven Bradbury was Australia’s first Winter Olympics Gold Medallist way back in…2002. Yup, not that long ago. We’re a country of sand and ocean after all.

Let me paint you a picture: It’s 2002, Salt Lake. The Event: The finals of the men’s short track 1000m speed skating. Five men line up ready for the starter’s gun. The competitors include Canadian Mathieu Turcotte, winner of 3 world championships, American Apolo Anton Ohno who has 2 world championships and a home crowd advantage, and Chinese Li Jiaju who has won a massive 10 world championships. The fourth man is South Korean Ahn Hyun-soo who will go on to be one of the most accomplished short track speed skaters of all time and will win 3 gold and a bronze medal in 2006. Amongst these powerhouses of speed skating, stands Australia’s Steven Bradbury. His personal world championship count? Zero.

The fact that Steven Bradbury is even on the starting line with these men is pretty surprising. At 30, he’s a veteran of the sport, and Salt Lake is his last chance to represent Australia. He’s only competing at these Olympics because he feels he hasn’t skated his best in previous Olympics, including a disappointing performance in Lillehammer in 1994 where he was eliminated in the event he was tipped to win. That was 8 years ago.

But as Bradbury takes his place, he’s already made history. Simply making it to the finals is the best performance by an individual Australian at a Winter Olympics (remember that sand and ocean thing I mentioned earlier?).

To reach the finals, Steven Bradbury has already had luck on his side. He won his heat but came third in the quarterfinals, and would not have progressed except that the second-place-comer was disqualified for obstruction. In the semi-finals, he hung back, hoping for a break (or a crash). Three of the five competitors went down. Bradbury came in second, moving him into the final. (It is interesting to note that in the second semi-final, the WORST time (4th place) was better than the first time in Steven’s semi-final.)

So here Steven Bradbury is with the best in the world, ready to compete for a gold medal. The starter’s gun goes off. These amazing athletes seemingly defy the laws of physics as they whizz around the tiny track at over 30 miles per hour. Steven Bradbury sticks to his game plan – he hangs back, and hopes, just hopes, he can sneak a medal (any medal). But as the race goes on, Steven Bradbury falls further behind. These guys are just amazingly, unbelievably good.

Then, on the last corner, something happens. One of the competitors loses his footing. There’s a collision. China goes down, South Korea goes down, and he takes Canada and the USA with him. Four of the world’s best short track speed skaters crash against the barrier walls in a heap and Steven Bradbury glides across the line to take a gold medal. The look of surprise as he sails across that finish line is priceless.

You can watch the race with original commentary here:

 

And the win in Bradbury’s own words, here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYUjmEH9NNk

So what lessons can we learn from the Steven Bradbury gold medal? The media went on to dub him one of the luckiest athletes ever and people joked he should buy a lottery ticket. The fact that he was nearly 20 metres off the pace at the end of the race made him look like the guy that just showed up and won a gold medal.

But that is far from the truth.

You don’t just show up at the Olympics.

Steven Bradbury was an amazing athlete, a star who dedicated himself to his sport. He knew after he’d won, that the media would want to know if he thought he deserved his medal. His answer? He said he was accepting the medal, not for those few minutes of racing, but for the 14 years of dedication he’d given to his sport.

Steven Bradbury was a serious athlete. He was part of the short track relay team that won Australia’s first ever winter Olympic medal, a bronze in 1994. In 1992, he’d be part of the team that won the World Championships in the 5000m relay in Sydney. This wasn’t a guy who had just showed up. This was a guy who had worked hard, damn hard, to achieve excellence in his sport. (And suffered for it too – in 1994 a skater’s blade cut clean through all four of Bradbury’s quadriceps. He lost 4 litres of blood, needed 111 stitches and 18 months recovery).

Was he lucky? Yes, he was. Bloody lucky. But that luck couldn’t have come if Steven Bradbury hadn’t been the athlete he was. He earned his place at those Olympics by sheer hard work and persistence. He gave himself the opportunity to be lucky. When he sailed across that finish line with a look of surprise on his face, he made what he’d been doing for over a decade and a half look easy. But actually, the element of luck played only a small part in his win.

We see it all the time – the actress who seemingly comes out of nowhere with a lead in a blockbuster movie – and you go off to google her only to find out she’s done bit parts in 20 movies and 5 TV series. That writer you’ve never heard of who lands a huge sum for her multi-POV fantasy work, but then you find out she’s actually a Hugo-awarded short-story writer with a dozen publications under her belt.

There’s luck in everything, but often less than we think. Writing the right thing at the right time, hitting the right market, getting your work in front of the right publisher, that’s often luck. But finishing a novel (a good novel, a publishable novel), attending workshops, thinking deeply on structure and prose, elevating your craft above the mundane – that’s just hours of you and your butt in the chair – and you’ll never, never get published without it.

Sometimes, writers who you feel are less talented, less articulate, and (dare I say!) younger than you are going to sail on past you and get published more widely and make more money despite your best efforts. That’s part of writing game, it’s part of the risk. When you write to be published you accept those risks – just the same way Steven Bradbury accepted that the likelihood of crashing out was a very real part of his sport.

No, you can’t win a gold medal at the Olympics by showing up, no more than you can get a publishing contract if you don’t put effort into writing (or if you never send your story out to agents and publishers). So, put in the work and put your butt in the chair. Make your writing great. Then, put on your skates and put it all on the line. Maybe you’ll cross the finish line because you’re brilliant. Or maybe, you’ll cross the line as an outlier. Maybe you’ll make it look so easy everybody will say that they could have done it. Whatever way you get there, the best thing about writing is that if you don’t succeed, you don’t have to wait 4 years to try again.

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Happy Valentines!

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When we think of Valentines Day, for most of us our thoughts go almost immediately to romantic love. St Valentine himself is often associated with romantic gestures, marrying couples in secret and sending love letters.

But love isn’t all about romance. Do you know that the ancient Greeks had six different words for love? They did!

Here they are:

Eros for sexual passion and desire

Phlia for deep friendship and comradeship

Ludus for the playful love of children and flirting

Agape for the selfless love of all people on the earth, empathy

Pragma for the mature love of long-married couples

Philautia for self love (both negative narcissism, and positive self-compassion)

So wherever you are in the world, I wish you Phila if you are a fellow writer in the trenches, and Agape to all!

Happy Valentines!

You can read excellent descriptions of the 6 different definitions of Ancient Greek love here: http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life

New Year’s Resolutions (and small things…)

Yes, I know it’s February.

But January is not the time to make New Year’s Resolutions in Australia. The air smells like barbeque and beer, the kids are home for summer, and the days slide away one after the other in a blur of beaches, pool and 40-degree (celsius!) heat.

No, January is not the perfect time to make New Year’s Resolutions.

Nor has it, for me, been a particularly good month to write. Now, I’m sure the best, most dedicated writers would just push on through all the distractions and carve out time to craft words, but this year, I just couldn’t manage it. Instead, I spent time with friends, with family, with my kids. I ate. I drank. I made merry (and I’ve got the spare tyre to prove it!) BUT, I refuse to feel guilty (about the break or the feasting – that’s my first resolution – no more guilt!).

Taking a break from writing now and then gives you a chance to see the forest for the trees. I haven’t written in January, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about writing. And I don’t mean I’ve been thinking ‘gee, I should be writing’, instead I’ve been thinking about:

– What I’ve written,

– What I’ve finished,

– What I haven’t finished,

– Which projects I want to work on this year, and

– Which projects can be put aside.

The results of that introspection have steered this year in a different direction (but that’s a whole different post).

A break, a space, a gap – has also given me time to put ALL my priorities on the table, not just writing priorities. So, I guess I shouldn’t call them New Year’s Resolutions at all. Instead, I’ll just call them Resolutions.

So, what are my Resolutions for 2018?

I love this quote from Robert Louis Stevenson:

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‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.’

So my resolutions this year are small, quiet things. Tiny seeds, rather than grand, sweeping plans. Whispers, not shouts. Write every day, eat more vegetables (this should be on everyone’s list!), be present, listen (to myself and others), be kind (to myself and others), enjoy the sunshine, move my body, grow things, appreciate the journey instead of rushing hurly-burly towards the goal.

Those are my seeds. What are yours?

Brandon Sanderson at Supernova Sydney 2017

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OMG, OMG, OMG – I met Brandon Sanderson last weekend. I’m not usually one to fan-girl an author (who am I kidding – yes, I am), but meeting someone who’s written so many amazing books in my favourite genre, including being a part of one of my FAVOURITE SERIES EVER (The Wheel Of Time) – well, it was awesome.

I took two books for Brandon to sign – The Final Empire and A Memory of Light.

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Two personally signed books! Awesome!

He signed them both, smiled for a photo, and at the end asked me if I had any questions for him. I had about a million, but of course my brain ceased to function at that precise moment – so I thanked him for finishing The Wheel of Time, telling him it was a series my friend and I have been reading since we were thirteen-year-olds in high school. I speculated if Robert Jordan would ever have finished the series even if he had lived the lifespan of a functionally immortal dragon – which sounded very callous in hindsight – and please don’t get me wrong, I love Robert Jordan’s world and his writing. Even if I was frustrated at times by the meandering plot and sometimes slow pace, I never wanted the series to end. But I am ever so thankful that there was someone like Brandon Sanderson to step in and finish this series. Brandon was very gracious and told me to say ‘hi’ to my friend.

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Brandon Sanderson and me (cosplaying Wonder Woman)

I also had the pleasure of seeing Brandon Sanderson speak in a solo panel. He shared some amazing words of wisdom, and I just wanted to share a couple of take-aways (please note I didn’t take any notes while listening, so I am going from memory):

On completing The Wheel Of Time

I initially felt a bit sheepish taking a copy of A Memory of Light for Brandon to sign. I mean, he has so many other amazing series and is such a prolific writer, surely I could have found a couple of books that were solely ‘his’. But after hearing him speak, I didn’t feel any discomfort asking him to sign a book about a world that he didn’t create. He revealed that when Robert Jordan passed, he left only about 200 pages of work (mostly the material that became the prologues). Jordan was not a planner, and so Brandon Sanderson was left to develop the story line with plenty of autonomy. It might have been Jordan’s world, but it was Sanderson’s imagination that brought The Wheel of Time to its stunning conclusion.

On routine and family

Brandon has the following routine: sleep until midday, write for four hours in the afternoon, then spend the late afternoon / evening with his family. He gets back onto the computer at about 11pm and works through until 3am, giving himself an hour or so to goof off before bed around 4am. He spoke of the importance of being mentally present when you’re with your family – and I think this was such valuable advice – as writers we often suffer from constant guilt – guilt that we’re neglecting our family when we’re writing, and guilt that we’re not writing when we’re with our family. The importance of being in the moment when we’re enjoying ‘family time’ and not off in our writing world was something I’m taking with me, and echoes lots of stuff I’ve read recently about mindfulness and enjoying the moment.

On why he thinks fantasy is a great genre

Because it can include the best elements of any other genre – mystery, romance, action, literary fiction – plus dragons!

 

It was absolutely amazing to hear Brandon Sanderson speak, and I’m so glad I made it to his panel. He seemed so down-to-earth, so kind and humble, and just the right amount of book-geek to be totally, super-cool.

Thanks for coming to Sydney, Brandon Sanderson. I hope you stop by again soon!

Until next time xxxx

Why You Ought to Be Writing in the Morning (Part 1)

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You’ve heard it a hundred times right? Everyone (and sometimes it feels like everyone) tells you that you’ve GOT to get your writing done in the morning. Get it out of the way. Get those words down when you’re fresh. Get on with your day.

Well – I’ve pretty much been ignoring that advice for as many years as I’ve been alive. I’m a NIGHT OWL. Always have been. At high-school, all my best study was done between the hours of midnight and 6am. University was the same: in that quiet, dark time when it feels like the rest of the world is asleep, that’s when the magic has always happened for me. Most of my writing has been done between the hours of 10pm and 2am. I pretty much wrote and edited the entirety of my novel White Eyes during those hours.

And honestly, who in their right mind wants to get up early if they don’t have to? Getting up before everyone else has always seemed to me to be a form of strange and unusual torment. It’s scientifically proven that the human body doesn’t mind staying up late (something to do with our sleep patterns and natural body clock, I think) but struggles to get up earlier. Especially when it’s cold. And dark. Or dark AND cold. (I just made that last bit up but it works for me).

BUT:

Night writing does take its toll. Full of ideas and fuelled by caffeine, I’ve always found it very hard to switch my brain off after a late night session, hard to get to sleep. That makes mornings a bitch – a tired, sleepy, grumpy, sluggish stumble to the kitchen for more caffeine. I’d often delegate morning routine with the kids to my hubby (I’m very lucky he works close to home) so that I could get at least 5, perhaps 6 hours of sleep. It was hard, but it felt worth it – writing is sacrifice because the rewards outweigh the cost – and losing a little bit of sleep isn’t the end of the world.

I could have gone on like that indefinitely, but for two things:

  1. My eldest daughter started school. My kids are great sleepers, and up until that point, they’d generally not wake until 8am, but now she’d need to be up at least an hour earlier, and there were sandwiches to make, uniforms to prepare, hair to do. I was going to HAVE to get up earlier.
  2. This was the big one. My husband and I decided we’d like to add another child to our family.

I cut down my cups of coffee to two  – the recommended limit for pregnancy (don’t ask how many I would normally have in a day – it’s not a pretty number). And we waited. I went to visit an acupuncturist who specialised in fertility. She was adamant. I needed to get more sleep. I needed to be in bed no later than 10pm. And I ought to give up the coffee. I laughed in her face (in a good-humoured kind of way).  I’m a writer. Caffeine is the very substance I transform into words, and 10pm is my Prime Time. There was no way I could give those things up.

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And there was no way I could get more sleep. There weren’t enough hours in the day. But the acupuncturist was clear: I was 37 and had a low egg reserve – if I wanted the best chance of a baby I ought to listen to her.

Begrudgingly I gave up the coffee. Not quite cold-turkey, but close enough that I got terrible headaches. I still wasn’t quite ready to give up my nights though. I figured I could start writing at 8pm, be finished and in bed by 10pm. But without my usual afternoon coffee, by 8pm my brain had left the building. My eyes were drooping and all my ideas had already gone to sleep. I was like this (but not so adorable):

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It was all I could do to scour eBay for a few Review fit n’ flare dresses and check Facebook, before I’d drag myself to bed, or park myself in front of the TV (or just skip the middle man and not bother sitting down at my computer at all).

Something had to give. With two kids, I was getting no writing done in the day. I’d lost my prime night writing time. There was only one thing for it.

Set the alarm clock.

It was time for morning writing.

(pop back next week to read part two)