An annoying fact about tennis is that every point matters. There are no “rest points.” The next point is always important. This is true for good and bad players, and regardless if you are winning or losing.
Writing is no different, it turns out.
In tennis, a long point is worth the same as a short point. You can run around the court and make great shots, only to lose by slamming a return straight into the net. You can try your hardest, win points, and still lose every set. You can fall behind quickly if you are frustrated or give up. For novices, games are often lost because of errors, not won because of brilliance.
Writing is the same. A good idea can bounce around in your head for a long time, but fail to come together on the page. An idea can take shape quickly but never feel complete. A seemingly bad idea, with work, can turn into something good. Some sentences and posts are good on the first pass, others are never good enough. Sometimes, writing just doesn’t work, and it is frustrating, but you have to believe it matters to continue doing it.
Both tennis and writing are mental games. It is you versus yourself, and you can betray yourself easily. Much of the time it is about not losing rather than winning, especially for a novice like me. I constantly need to remind myself that every point matters. If I don’t believe every point matters, I’ll lose more points than I need to. You can’t waste points and expect to win.
Believing every point matters allows us to stay in the game for longer. Staying in the game matters because both are long games. Although you may not win this point, set, or even game, there are future points, sets, and games to be played. Your effort and belief that points matter now impacts your ability to compete (and win) future points.
The only way to “lose” the long game of tennis or writing is to stop. You convince yourself the next point doesn’t matter, and you believe it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I may lose at tennis and suck at writing now, but I’m not trying to win only this point. I’m trying to win a lot of points in the “big game.” The more points I play, the better I’ll get and the more points I’ll win. I’ll continue to improve while others choose to quit.
The ability to go from a bad tennis player or writer to a good one rests on your belief that every point matters. It makes you stay in the game, and in the long run, win more points. Believing every point matters makes it true.
Let me know what you think on Twitter.