The Tour de France is huge at my house. My son, Alex, is a competitive cyclist, so we enjoy following the Tour and all its colorful drama. Chills, spills — you name it! Every year the Tour starts off with a bang and a raft of surprises. You never know who will touch someone else’s wheel and take a tumble or hit a slick patch of road and miraculously manage to stay upright. Cycling is one of the most exciting and dangerous sports around.
Just today, the 2013 Tour winner took a fall. He hopped back on his bike, but it’s likely that he’s in for a rough few days. One of the commentators covering the Tour asked Christian van de Velde, a former Tour rider himself, what someone thinks about when they take a fall. Are they thinking about how badly they’re hurt? Are they dreaming of getting back to the hotel and taking it easy?
Christian had a great answer: When someone falls, he said they “think forward.” By this he meant, they immediately start thinking ahead: What will it take for me to regain my rhythm? How can I recover, here and now? What’s the next obstacle on the road I need to be alert to? In other words, instead of dwelling on an error in judgment they might have made or someone else’s mistake and the difficulties it’s caused for them, they immediately shift into a proactive, problem-solving mode. As elite athletes, Tour riders know that setbacks come with the territory and that they have to be managed strategically in order to minimize their impact. With three weeks of cycling, it’s possible to recover, regroup, and even triumph – if they stay focused on what’s ahead and on their overall target.
How can we apply this approach to our writing life? Here are a few ideas:
When we hit a writing roadblock, instead of falling into the Slough of Despond, we can quickly “think forward” and strategize about ways to regain our rhythm and momentum. We might shift to another chapter or scene of the same project – or set the project aside for the moment and work on something else. We might create a “mind map” for the scene or chapter that we see to be stuck on and see if a word or phrase crops of that triggers a new idea or pathway.
When we encounter a rejection, instead of letting it assault our confidence and slow our pace, we can “think forward” – and consider how we can use the feedback we’ve gotten. What can we extract from a turndown that might be useful? Is there a pattern in the kind of comments we’re receiving? If so, what weakness does it point to – and what steps can we take to address it?
When we’re in the midst of a revision, instead of feeling overwhelmed by all the work ahead of us, we can “think forward” – and regain the focus and purpose we drew on to get through a draft. We can find a revision rhythm that enables us to make steady progress and we can envision the long-term goal that we want to accomplish.
If you hit an obstacle today, why not respond like an elite athlete? Think forward – and write on!