Thursday, January 20, 2011

Be Your Own Coach

I live in Wisconsin, home of the beloved Green Bay Packers--a team once coached by Vince Lombardi, the man after whom the Super Bowl trophy was named. So yes, we take football seriously 'round here.

And we're in the Playoffs.

No matter where I go, I catch scraps of conversations, almost all exclusively centered around our team and the next game. Because...if we win the next game, we're in the Super Bowl, and the Vince Lombardi trophy is coming home to Lambeau (where it belongs).

If you don't follow football (or care) I'll put this simply: the Super Bowl is what teams play all year for. At the end of a football season, it's the only the game that matters. As a woman, I get it. After all, it's the only game where winning means you get jewelry!

As a writer, I also get it. I've written quite a bit over the years--short stories, poems, partial manuscripts, etcetera. I wrote each work with all my heart and soul wrapped up into it and loved the finished product like a baby. With every stroke of the pen, I gave it my all, the very best I had at the time.

Like a lot of football teams out there right now, someone's personal best is not always good enough. Mine certainly wasn't for a while. That's when I became my own personal coach. Coaches believe in their team when no one else does, but they're also honest with their players. They hold them accountable and force them to reach their potential by using any means at that coach's disposal.

Are you your own personal coach? Are you being honest with yourself? Patting yourself on the back for your strengths is nice, but you have to remember that it's not your strengths that get you published. Instead, it's your weaknesses that get you rejected.

That sounds like a glass half-empty approach, I know. But keep in mind, a touchdown means nothing if you don't win the game. Acknowledging that which holds you back is the first step. Embrace your faults and commit yourself to changing them.

When I'm working on a manuscript, I'm constantly aware of my bad habits. I strive with every sentence to avoid passive phrasing and use strong, active verbs to intensify my action. I have a growing list of verbs and other words I find in books I read to increase my vocabulary. Every few chapters, I reevaluate my characters to make sure they're staying true to who they are. And I tweak my dialogue several times because I want to keep it real.

I'm tough on myself, and only allow myself to "love" my story when it's done, edited, and ready to send out. Before then, my gaze is critical and unconvinced.

I am my own personal coach. Are you?

**If you enjoyed this post, please follow my blog by clicking "follow" on the upper-left side of the tool bar. It's at the top of the page.**


  1. Awesome post, Rhiannon. :-) I have to be careful not to focus too strong on my weaknesses as I write though, or I'll get discouraged and quickly decide it's all crap, LOL!

    And I guess you'd hate me if I shouted "GO STEELLERS" and then bolted, wouldn't you?

    Ahahahaa, well... GO STEELERS!!! Bye!

  2. That's okay. You can shout GO STEELERS without worry of violence...unless the Packers and Steelers meet in the Super Bowl. Then them's fightin' words!

  3. As a former sportswriter and analyst of games, I can tell you that the Packers are the hot team right now, and at playoff time the hot team has a good shot to go all the way. I am picking the Packers, even though they beat my beloved but beleaguered Giants.

    Yes, being your own coach is very important. You mentioned checking to see if your characters are being true to themselves. I have found the best way to insure this is to do elaborate character biographies before you start a book. Characters' lives didn't begin when the book begins. They have history, like real people, and like real people that history usually dictates their actions in the present. So I start in childhood and work my way up to the present. Actors do this all the time. I was an actor for a few years. What the history does is give you sense memories. In real life we all have sense memories that affect us, like a bad childhood experience, a lost love, a great high on the football field (yes, I played). If, for example, you decide your character had a strong, authoritarian father, then when they encounter one in your book you know exactly how they will react, what they will say etc. I also have developed this way of inhabiting my characters, all of them. When I speak through dialogue or in action I believe I AM that person. Then I switch to the other person and talk like them. Not sure how I can do this, but I do.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post.

  4. You can post as long as you want to, Nathan, especially when you back my Packers ;) Thanks for stopping by.

  5. What does one call a bunch of millionaires sitting around watching the Super Bowl?
    The Redskins (I can say that 'cause they're my team, but that doesn't mean I"m happy with them!)

    Great post, as always!!