5 Writing Lessons I Learned from an Ironwoman

Sunni Herman, a dear friend of mine, recently completed the Atlantic City Half Ironman IM70.3 triathlon. She swam 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles, and then ran a half marathon. After this monumental achievement, she wrote an inspiring article about her “aha” moments and lessons learned. While Sunni’s article added a pep to my step and a fews laps to my swim, it also brought tears to my eyes. Sunni is a mom of three terrific kids and is Executive Vice President of a nursing home. She is power personified. I asked if I could adapt her lessons to our writing community. And in her sunny way, Sunni said, “Of course!”

For those of you who want to run an Ironman, read Sunni’s article here. For the rest of us, here are five takeaways for authors from an Ironwoman:

  1. Enjoy the journey: When my husband and I drove the beautiful Road to Hana last summer on Maui, we absorbed the lesson of “The journey is the destination.” Sunni’s years of training taught her that lesson as well. For authors, every blog your read, workshop you attend, webinar you watch, writers’ group you join, & draft you write is all part of the journey. There are no short cuts. Might as well enjoy the ride and accept that there will be plenty of bumps, twists & turns, and detours along the way. Keep going!
  2. Break things into achievable pieces: At first, Sunni couldn’t swim 72 pool lengths to make a mile. (She confided that she could barely breathe after the first lap!) So she broke down her laps into manageable pieces. She swam one length, then two, then seven. “I did 1/10th!” she exclaimed. By breaking down the process, her training became more manageable. The same works for writing. If writing or editing a complete manuscript feels too overwhelming or you simply don’t have time, work on one line or one paragraph or one page a day. Some days will flow and others won’t. But keep writing and you’ll get there!
  3. Scars are really tiger stripes: Sunni’s training was physically brutal. She developed allergies to bathing caps, goggles, salt water, and finally to the sun! Her skin bears the scars of her training. But an experienced runner told her, “Those aren’t scars. You earned those stripes.” Let’s face it: Writing can be emotionally brutal. It is filled with rejection. And every rejection, no matter how experienced a writer you may be, still hurts. So let’s take on Sunni’s sunny attitude: Every rejection is a means toward a goal. Those painful letters are a cue that you are in the race and you are in it to win it. So stay the course!
  4. Kill it with a smile. Along the Ironman route, Sunni had a “Sherpa” friend who told her that no matter how much pain she was in, keep smiling! So she cheered for the police officers along the bike route and danced with the volunteers on the boardwalk. As children’s writers, we are part of a great, big, generous community. When you’re having a bad day, cheer on your friends and others who support you. Celebrate their accomplishments. Keep smiling. Your turn will come soon too!
  5. Play a bar like a stadium and a stadium like a bar. Before the race, Sunni went to a Lady Gaga concert. On stage, Lady Gaga spoke about her days playing to near-empty bars and imagining that she was at a stadium. Sunni heard Gaga playing to a full stadium in the pouring rain, and she sang like she was playing in an intimate bar. Sunni’s takeaway was that the big competition would be manageable if she pretended it was a walk in the park. No easy task! Being an author is hard work too. Once you’re published (or even before), you have the job of marketing your book. Sometimes you’ll be playing to near-empty bars (picture empty seats at a reading) and sometimes you’ll hit the big time. Take in each experience with a positive attitude & remember that it’s all part of a long, rewarding journey. As my daughter’s coach once told her, “If you believe, you will achieve. You will succeed!”

Winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award and a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book

Liberty two boys