Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lombardi On Writing

There once was a guy named Vince Lombardi. He was a football coach. He won a lot of games, including the first two Super Bowls as the coach of the Green Bay Packers. He was also known as a supreme motivator and teacher. And he was one of the baddest SOB's to ever roam the sports world. What could he possible have to say about writing? Glad you asked!

Lombardi once said "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Now before your tender heart, with your precious little 7-year old who picks you the best bouquets of daisies while he's supposed to patrolling right field, and the wonderful league you're a part of that doesn't give trophies out because 'we're all winners here!' start writing me hate mail, understand something: life doesn't give you a break because your feelings get hurt. I am not one of those "wouldn't it be great if everyone was equal and people were nice to each other" guys. I am a "life is unfair, there's always going to be someone better than you, and you are not going to win every time, so you better learn that lesson early on" kind of man. I'm also going to be that kind of parent to my son. He's only two, so winning and losing are foreign concepts to him, however they won't be when he's 32.

How does that "winning isn't everything; it's the only thing" quote apply to writing? Well, what is your writing goal? Is it to be able to hang published author behind your name whenever you introduce yourself at a cocktail party? That's fine. Is it to see your book next to all your heroes in Barnes & Noble? Knock yourself out. Do you want to be the next James Patterson and evolve (or devolve as some would say) from just a writer to a brand? Good luck to you. Whatever your goal is, you need to be clear about it and, this is the really important part, go all out until you reach it! Why quit if that's your goal? As Duke told Rocky when he was in the 15th round against the Russian, "all your strength, all your power, all your love, everything you got!" Now, a caveat if I may: be realistic about your goal. If you can't write a legible paragraph, then your desire to out-King King will probably not happen. But set your goal and win at it; that's all that should matter to you.

Lombardi is also the guy who said "The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work." If you don't write a lot, read a lot and then work hard at your craft, then why keep doing it? I am not perfect (read my book and find out, it comes out May 15... how's that for a plug!), but I am working on it. I am trying my best to get better with every sentence. And if the last sentence sucks, then I make the next one better. If you aren't working, you'll never get to that goal you set earlier.

The coach was asked once why he ran and worked his players so hard at practice. He replied, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." Ever get the sinking feeling that the only people to read your work will be your spouse and maybe the hacker who cracked your email password? Ever feel like everything you are working toward, everything you have poured your all into is never going to happen? That's writer's fatigue setting in, and it can make you into a coward. You can curl up into the metaphorical fetal position (or literal for that matter) and just give up. Or you can bust your butt, push through and keep working. It's what would make the coach happy.

The last coaching point, as we call it football, I'll share is my favorite all-time sports quote ever: "I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious." Read that one again. Now, picture Karl Marlantes sitting in his home, a Vietnam vet who lived through hellish conditions, saw his buddies killed, was wounded in battle but somehow made it home. He worked on a novel called Matterhorn that told the real story of what he went through, in fictional form, for not years, but decades. Over thirty years after he started putting it on paper, he got to see his book in print. Then it became a best-seller. listed it as one of the best books of the year. People far and wide lauded it as the definitive book of the Vietnam War, telling the story of countless thousands who either didn't make it home or were unable to talk about the horrors they witnessed. Marlantes spent over three decades pouring his heart, his mind, his memories, his love, his strength, his will, everything into that book. And now he sits in that same chair where he wrote the book, probably exhausted in his soul, if not in his body. But he has a smile on his face because he is, to quote the coach, "victorious."

Whatever your goal is, you have to work. You have to want to win above everything else. But you also want the smile. You want to be lying on the field, with mud and sweat and blood pooling around you, as you close your eyes and taste, maybe for the first time, pure and simple victory. And what would Coach Lombardi say to you as he offered his hand and pulled you up?

"Good job. Enjoy it... for now," and with a pat on the butt, the coach turns, then calls over his shoulder to you. "Next season starts tomorrow."

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Todd, and a good reminder to follow your dreams and never give up. Too many people give up too easily these days, and negative attitudes are the worst.