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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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 2)

This post follows on from my last post on why I ended up writing in the mornings (even though I’m a night person). You can read that post here.

Starting a routine that includes writing in the morning is not easy. As I said in my previous post, I’m not a morning person. I’ll repeat:

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If you’ve read my previous post, you’d know that for me, the writing was on the wall (pun intended!). I had to find some writing time, and mornings was the only option I had left. I know I’m in the same boat as all of you other lovely writers out there; we all play the ‘find some writing time’ game – trying to shoe-horn writing time around a hundred other things: work, children, our partners, cleaning and all the other myriad of jobs and tasks that make up life in general. The amazing Kate Forsyth wrote in the park while her children played. J K Rowling wrote in a café while her child slept. Other people write on train commutes, or during lunch breaks. Like everything else in life, we decide how important writing is to us and make time (or not) accordingly. When there’s no boss looking over your shoulder, no KPIs to meet, or bills to pay (of course there’s always bills to pay, but for must of us writers, it isn’t our writing that’s paying them), it’s easy to let writing drop down on the priority list.

Every writer decides what they’re willing to sacrifice to get words on the page. So, for me, after realising that the only time I had to write was mornings, I set my alarm clock for 5am (which gave me a solid 2 hours before I needed to get the kids up for school at 7am) and got up to write. Two hours of sleep was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

I’m not going to lie to you. Getting up in the morning sucks. It’s cold, it’s dark, the bed is warm and your brain is fuzzy. You trip over the dog. You scald yourself pouring coffee into your cup. And when you get to your computer, you’ve no ideas other than how nice it would be to go back to bed about now. Once, again, it’s a bit like this (but far less cute):

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But you’re up, and you’re at your computer, so you write. Everything you write is pretty much drivel. But you figure your first drafts are usually drivel anyway. You push on, keep going and before you know it, an alarm goes off, or a child gets out of bed, or the dog starts barking to go out, or the sun will rise and you’ll have to stop what you’re doing (sometimes mid-sentence, but even that isn’t as bad as I imagined it would be) and say to yourself ‘that’s it for today’.

And, if you’re like me, you’ll find that after 2 hours of solid writing (minus breaks for coffee and the bathroom and a piece of toast and some internet research), you’ll have written between 1000 and 2000 words (maybe a little bit more on a good morning). And best of all, you don’t have to think about writing for the rest of the day, because your word count is already done! How awesome is that?!

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Instead, you can use your time to enjoy what you’re doing with your day and let your story simmer at the back of your mind, knowing you’re going to revisit it again tomorrow. Your energy goes into thinking about your story, rather than worrying about whether you’ll have the time or energy to physically sit down at your keyboard (which can be enervating in itself.)

If you need further encouragement to switch to mornings, why not check out this article here, which explains why science thinks we ought to be morning writers (and don’t despair if mornings aren’t really your thing, if you read the whole article it has plenty to say about the value of routine building regardless of the time).

So you’re sold on morning writing now, right? But still not sure how you’re going to get out of bed? My next post includes my top 6 tips for early rising writers and how to make the switch to morning writing.