“Extreme sport is a popular term for certain activities perceived as having a high level of inherent danger.”
When I decided to begin my Big Year Project, I thought I had an original idea—writing as an extreme sport. My goal was trying to achieve a personal best in writing by being productive everyday: finishing my book project and hopefully coming up with a few short, publishable pieces in the process. One of the first lessons I’ve learned, however, is that there are very few new ideas. Several other writers have already identified writing as an extreme sport:
So, the extreme sport idea is already taken. If our ideas are rarely original, what can we as writers accomplish? What we can achieve is giving each piece a special slant–incorporating our individual point of view, thereby giving an otherwise unoriginal piece a creative twist. Certainly trying to inject originality into our work has a “high level of inherent danger.”
There are other factors that make writing an extreme sport. Other than the discipline, the willingness to put in the time and discovering our individual perspectives or voices, there are the issues of exposure and vulnerability.
By putting our writing forward in the public eye, we risk criticism, ridicule and other negative input. I experienced this in 2012 with my first published work (other than scientific writing.) The piece was a personal essay about my father as a scientist and a man. Most of my feedback was positive and the piece was published online. However, a family member took offense. Fortunately, I had already become immune to criticism from the particular source, but the experience reminded me of the daring involved in putting oneself out there. When my first real criticism comes along, how will I handle it? A thicker skin will certainly help. The more I’m out there, the thicker my skin will get—another reason for my Big Year experiment. With all of the critics (self-appointed and otherwise) and trolls out there, exposure of one’s vulnerabilities certainly qualifies as an activity with “a high level of inherent danger.”
Writing is also an extreme sport in the sense that one’s livelihood can depend on success or failure as a writer. In the new world of publishing, making a living as a writer is harder than ever. There are so many of us out there, and so few “make it.” So, if you can’t write for the enjoyment and the desire to develop some expertise in your extreme sport, it might not be for you.
Choosing a mentor or mentors is very important in any sport, especially an extreme sport like writing. A writing mentor must be someone you trust, someone who will take your writing apart bit by bit so that you can retrofit stories and make them better. Otherwise, your mentor is merely a fan or a sycophant. I am fortunate in having found a wonderful and accomplished primary mentor, and many other mentors and friends who give me real input.
So-it is the afternoon of day 2 of my Big Year. My steps are tentative, but by the end of 2013, I hope to have made extreme progress. Thank you for listening.
Susan E. Swanberg © 2013