Ben Hunt-Davis was part of an underachieving Men’s Eight who in 1998 set themselves a Crazy Goal of winning an Olympic Gold Medal in just two years time. They developed a whole new way of working and began challenging everything they did with the question:
“Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?”
If it did, they would keep doing it, if it didn’t they’d try something different. By focusing on their performance, their results started improving, giving them the belief that their Crazy Goal may not be so crazy after all. On the 25th September 2000, Ben and his crew won Gold at the Sydney Olympics. Now their story acts as a reminder that with the right approach people are capable of amazing things.
~ from the “Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?” website. I absolutely love their Crazy Goal concept.
I heard this story on the Make Art not Content podcast and it’s great advice for creatives. This one little phrase can be applied to any activity or invitation. Hang on? I don’t have a boat…
oh, it’s a metaphor. Right. So what’s my metaphorical boat?
Years ago I devoured the one and only sports biography I’ve ever read. One by Andre Agassi is recommended reading for anyone who thinks they want to ‘make it’ or wants their kid to ‘make it’. Agassi describes his first session with his new trainer. Remember this was back in the 80s and sports science was a relatively new-ish field. “I run for an hour up and down hills,” he told his new trainer to which the trainer replied, “when are you running up hills on a tennis court?” Or something like that… I’m paraphrasing (read the book, it’s awesome and has a happy ending!)
For a tennis player, running hills won’t make the boat (winning a Grand Slam, I guess) go faster. For a writer or other kind of creative deciding what the boat looks like is the first hurdle.
Say for me the boat is writing and making it go faster will get me… where? A body of work of which I can be proud? A stream of income from my work? Recognition? Speaking opportunities? Invitations to writers’ festivals? A traditional publishing offer?
Okay so that’s my boat, even though some of those words put together like that make me a little queasy. And now, I ask myself…
“Will spending thirty minutes a day on Social Media make the boat go faster?“
Probably not. Getting more followers doesn’t necessarily translate to sales.
“Will networking with other writers and readers make it go faster?“
Yeah, as long as it’s a positive interaction. Being part of a writers’ association may take up some time but hopefully the learning and networking will put some gas in the tank. I’m always inspired after our local group meets. But not all networking is equal: listening to someone whine about the industry isn’t helpful for anyone so part of powering the boat is learning how to extricate ourselves from such situations. There are pitfalls along the way for sure, and hearing someone else’s tale of woe can help us avoid them but it’s important to be prudent about the amount of time we spend listening to such things. Negativity can be an anchor to our boat!
“Will doing creative writing classes and exercises make it go faster?‘
Yes. There’s no doubt about it. No matter how far we are on the writing road we can always learn something. But will doing my PhD in literature or an MFA make it go faster…
Once again, that depends on what the prize looks like. If the prize is to be gain a doctorate then get on it. How lovely to be a doctor of words like Dr Angela Slatter, the Story Doctor! Having qualifications can be very useful if you want to teach but I’m not sure it’s necessary if the prize is to write commercial fiction.
But that’s the beauty of this metaphor and this wonderful creative life we make. We get to decide what the boat looks like and we get to decide what the Gold Medal is for.
how fast can you go?
When I was making commercial art I made quite a name for myself with my prolific output and speed. I wasn’t making great art but I made useful art and I made it quickly. I’m proud to say my young successor has inherited my speed but has brought an incredible natural talent to the job and I’m so proud of her. She’s going to do far more with her own art than I ever could. But then I was raising a child. I had different horizons in sight. My ‘boat’ back then was speeding towards building a client base for the company and producing a good product. If and when I start painting again, my goals will be very different. My gold medal will be to create artwork that I love to make.
But right now, if my medal is to create a career from my words, to make money from my writing, should I be taking lessons from my old corporate days and write to market? I want to Make Art not Content but I also want to make my boat speed towards those lofty goals.
It’s a balancing act.
Writers have always used noms de plume so that’s an option. Have multiple boats and speed them towards the goal of making money, while another could be moving at a more sedate pace towards ‘making a name’, validation, all those lovely invitations to festivals.
Whatever floats your boat.
I’m like a dog on a bone with this question right now. Does this blog make my boat go faster? Yes. I can answer that very quickly. A friend who has read the blog from the beginning keeps telling me how much my writing has improved over the three years.
What about social media? Yikes, that’s a tough one. To be honest, I sell most of my books through content marketing on social media so it does help keep me ‘afloat’. And I love the camaraderie of the writing community. But I don’t need to spend thirty minutes a day on Instagram. That’s an anchor or a reed stuck in my rudder! As I said above, it’s a balancing act and asking ourselves the question is a great way to keep on track.
I wonder… will starting a podcast make my boat go faster…
Speaking of podcasts, I was a guest on the Loulabelle’s Francofiles podcast this week. I must say in an eventful year, my chat with Lou has been a real highlight. You can find lou here, or listen on Spotify below.
The feature image is a 60x90cm acrylic on canvas I painted in less than 2 hours.