While I am a new to writing, I’ve had some experience with success in three other fields of endeavor: motorcycle racing, motorcycle dealer, and fitness equipment store chain owner. In each of these I learned more clearly what is necessary for success. So many have written about how success is a matter of hard work, perseverance, breaking the rules, making up new rules. They are all pertinent and I’ve used them all in the course of my career.
I’ve found helpful, encouraging information from established self-published and hybrid authors, such as J.A. Konrath and Hugh Howey. Inspired by them, I humbly offer my addition to the large collection of success advice; mine having to do with the concept of visualization.
A story from motorcycle racing
Kenny Roberts is champion motorcycle racer, winning two Grand National Championships (US titles) and three 500cc World Championships (equivalent to a Formula 1 championship). These are an individual accomplishments equivalent to winning multiple Olympic gold medals, multiple Super Bowls and many other sports pedestals where few ascend.
Roberts revolutionized pavement motorcycle racing. His lean-off-the-bike style led to greater cornering speeds and his background in dirt track racing allowed him to be comfortable with the motorcycle drifting and sliding on pavement. The result was a form of riding that dominated the Europeans who, until that time, did not think to slide their machines on pavement. His style was so effective it changed how motorcycles were raced on pavement and changed how designers built the bikes; they had to accommodate this faster style by changing how their machines turned into a corner and how they reacted when the rear wheel started to slide.
Trans Atlantic Match races
This story is from the days before he became world champion, when he was involved in a spring racing series in Great Britain, called the Trans Atlantic Match races. The format involved the top U.S. racers traveling to England to compete with the top British racers each spring over the three days of the Easter weekend.
It was a compressed format; three races at three tracks in three days. In the morning there were practice sessions where you had to get the motorcycle dialed in (adjusted to the circuit and the current conditions) and learn the lines through the corners. Right after the noon break, a qualifying session was held to determine your starting position. A good position was critical since overtaking was difficult on most of the circuits. An hour after qualifying, the race was held and at the end of the day, everyone packed up to head for the next circuit. There wasn’t a lot of time to get it right.
A bad day at the track
Now England in the spring is cold, rainy and not friendly to motorcycle pavement racing, especially for the U.S. riders, many of whom came from sunny southern California. Cold pavement lacks traction, and when wet it is treacherous, demanding a delicate hand on the throttle be fast enough to win yet not fall down. At one of the tracks Roberts was having a difficult time of it. He could not post competitive times during the morning practice sessions. After struggling through two rounds of practice, having tweaked the settings on his motorcycle to no avail, he skipped the third and last round of practice. Instead he went into the Goodyear tire van, threw a bunch of racing tires up to block the entrance and sequestered himself alone during the last practice session.
After the noon break, he went out for the qualifying session. In that session Roberts turned the fastest time of the field to start on the pole position. He then went on to win the race. After, people came up to him to ask how he did it, since his times were so poor in practice. How did he turn it around? Did it have anything to do with his secluding himself in the tire van?
Roberts explained he was so frustrated during practice that he went into the van to review the track in his head. He took each of the corners, ran through them in his mind, tracing the perfect (fastest) line: the braking point, the turn-in point, the apex, how much brake he applied and where, how much throttle he applied and where. When he had the corner figured out in his head and memorized, he went to the next corner and did the same thing. In each of the corners he visualized how the motorcycle felt, how it would react to his inputs of braking, steering and throttle. When he had all the corners down in his head, Roberts said he then connected them together so that he could run a pole-setting lap in his head. “Then I just went out and replayed the movie in head, on the track,” he said in his signature laconic style.
We all accept that visualization works, but few of us have experienced it in such a dramatic fashion.
Don’t drift into fantasy!
One thing to note is that Roberts needed to visualize the corners in a way that didn’t violate the laws of physics. He couldn’t “fantasize” about flying around a corner defying the laws of motion and energy, ignoring the coefficient of traction of his tires, the force vectors on them, velocity limits, how quickly the motorcycle would react to his steering inputs, and dozens of other factors in play. The visualization process involved taking the corners apart and dissecting them, figuring them out and only then putting them back together. But the process had to be grounded in reality.
I have watched amateur racers try visualization without taking reality into consideration. The results were not pretty. Some of the racers that engaged in the sport for the fun and adventure of it went on to pay a huge price in damaged bodies for their misplaced confidence.
So it goes in any endeavor. If you want to visualize your success, you must break the goal down into its supporting parts. These are the building blocks to the success you seek. Visualize them, not just the end goal. Keep your visualizing grounded in reality and then you can go out and “replay the movie” that is in your head.
What about writing?
What are the parts to writing success? Here’s my list so far. One should consult other writers who have ascended that mountain. But I’m sure the list includes:
- Write every day. It’s a skill and like any, grows with practice
- Get critical advice and review. No great musician, sports person or artist got there without tutors or coaches.
- Learn all the parts of what make up a good story. It is central to success. If you don’t write well, don’t learn how to tell a good tale, engage the reader and keep them engaged, success with be hard to find. Racers without Roberts’ skill set could visualize all they wanted but would not achieve the same results.
- After a good story, if one is self-publishing, one has to figure out the “business” parts of the job. Much has been written on the business of self-publishing and I’m still digesting it. My business background, hopefully, will make that part a bit easier for me than some seem to find it.
So to reach your goal, break it down to all the parts you must master to achieve it, visualize doing them correctly, then go out and “replay the movie in your head”. Let me know if and how visualization has worked for you.