Today’s guest blogger is none other than Andy — my roommate, puppy daddy, former-RA, and oh yeah, boyfriend of 3.83 years. Although Andy wrote the “nonfiction novel” New House 5, he claims he is not a writer. Although he claims he is not a writer, he is constantly telling me what I’m doing wrong. (Just kidding!) No, in truth Andy is extremely supportive of me, serving both as cheerleader and butt-kicker, depending on what is needed. Plus he cooks! What more could I ask for?
It makes me really happy to have him guest blogging for me today. (Maybe it can even become a semi-regular thing?) Thanks, Andy!
I never used to think about writers. After all, I’m a businessman. We don’t have much time to think about “creative” professions. I negotiate for a living. I manage millions of dollars every day. I bought my first share of stock when I was 15. What do I care about writers?
But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about writers and more specifically, writing as a profession. I’ve lived with a writer for two years, and I admit, I’ve learned a lot. Being a professional writer isn’t the relaxed hippie lifestyle I imagined. It’s a harsh, demanding, unforgiving industry. If you can get an agent to like you, and an editor to like your agent, and a publisher to like your editor, and the bookstores to like your publisher, and a penny-pinching consumer to shell out $8 for the words you so meticulously crafted, you might be able to afford to feed yourself.
So the businessman (and the closet psychologist) in me began to wonder: what makes a successful writer? I stumbled upon one answer while watching the NBA finals. As the announcers talked about the fanatical work ethic and incomparable talent of Kobe Bryant, the avid sports fan in me began to put the pieces together. The characteristics that make a successful professional writer are the same traits that make a successful professional athlete.
The more I thought about it, the more similarities I found between people who try to make careers out of creative skills (writing, acting, artistry) and those who make careers out of athletics – a group I’ll refer to collectively as “Artists.” Some Artists are simply more talented than most others. I call these people “Gifteds” – those with pure, natural ability. There is a lot that coaching and practice can improve, but you can’t teach a basketball player to be seven feet tall, and you can’t teach a writer to imagine Harry Potter. Then there are Artists who eat, sleep, and breathe what they do – I call these people “ESBs.” ESBs shoot 2,000 jump shots a day during the off-season, or write until 3 o’clock in the morning to finish a story.
Gifteds who are not ESBs rarely become celebrities. They may get one book published, or play professional sports for a couple years, but ESBs who are not Gifted generally don’t end up at the top of their profession. They end up as coaches or professors. It’s the very small percentage of people who are Gifteds and ESBs that become household names. I call these people “Kobes,” after NBA star Kobe Bryant, an Artist who personifies the combination of sheer talent and unwavering dedication that I am talking about.
Bryant has the innate ability to put a round ball into a circular hoop from a variety of distances and angles. But he’s not a superstar just because he has a gift; he became a 4-time NBA champion because he is consumed with playing basketball and improving his game. If you Google “Kobe Bryant Workout,” it returns 320,000 results. Bryant’s famed “666” workout stands for 6 months a year, 6 days a week, 6 hours a day (which includes conditioning, cardio, weight-lifting and basketball). This is in addition to a grueling 82-game schedule. How intense are Bryant’s workouts? In an interview with Men’s Fitness magazine, Bryant says, “The key is to push yourself to a level where you’re hurting… you want to spit up blood, that sort of thing.”
If you’re looking for a writing analogy, you can easily replace “Kobe” with “King.” Stephen King is one of the most prolific and commercially successful writers ever. This is partly driven by his incomparable imagination (which some attribute to his witnessing of a friend being killed by a train when King was just a child), and partly because he is an ESB. King is one of the most disciplined writers in the industry, setting a daily 2,000 word quota and not allowing himself to stop writing until the quota is met. Writing is not just a job to King, it’s a lifestyle. In response to the question of why he writes, King simply says, “There was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. I really can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.”
This observation goes beyond creatives and athletes. Doctors and lawyers and businessmen are ESBs and Gifteds as well; they’re just less visible than Artists. There’s a perception that “traditional” professions are more conducive to ESBs, “creative” professions more to Gifteds. A closer look shows that regardless of the profession, there are always ESBs, Gifteds, Kobes, and everybody else.
There are a couple points to all of this:
1) To all of you Artists out there, I commend you for trying to make it in such competitive industries. I have a newfound respect for you.
2) Regardless of your profession, it’s important figure out if you’re a Gifted, an ESB, a Kobe or “everybody else.” I’m not saying you can’t have a fulfilling and successful career if you’re not a Kobe, but understanding where you fall, and understanding what differentiates Kobes from the rest of the world, provides a reference point.
A final thought from the Eagle Scout in me: Be Prepared. The one constant for all successful Artists is that they took advantage of their opportunities. The humble Artists (as well as the disgruntled ones) attribute this to luck. I carry a fortune cookie paper in the liner of my baseball cap that reads, “Luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation.” Good luck to all of you.