Measuring Achievement By The Olympics. How Much Can You Achieve In 4 Years?

The London Olympics are almost over and the closing ceremony will finish off what has been a glorious few weeks. (Britain seems to have done really well in the medal table too!)

At the opening ceremony I shared 10 lessons writers can learn from the Olympics, but I have also been thinking a great deal about time and achievement during the competition. I have been learning about establishing professional creative habits in the last few months and the discipline of the athletes has really brought it home for me.


Warning: This post contains homework!

I do yearly goals, I also do daily To Do lists and any number of other goal setting activities. But it’s August already and it seems that the time flies by and I haven’t achieved everything I set out to do.

And yet, I also look back to the last Olympics in 2008 and see how far I have come.

It is hard to measure achievement in just one year, and 5 years often seems too far to see. But the Olympics are a great milestone by which to measure our creative lives. Not too short and not too long a period. I’m being open and honest in this post so I hope you will be too. Let’s do this together …

Where were you on your writing journey in August 2008? (Beijing Olympics)

First, write down what you had achieved on your writing journey by August 2008 and anything else that might be pertinent to what you have achieved. Please do share in the comments if you would like to, but definitely keep this written down somewhere. I use Moleskine journals these days.

By August 2008, I had written my first non-fiction book, How to love your job or find a new one. I had self-published it but it had only sold ~100 copies. I had started learning about marketing from books, audio CDs and online courses. I was working full-time as an IT consultant for a large multi-national mining company. I didn’t know any authors. I had not seriously considered writing fiction.

I had a new blog but it was about my non-fiction book. The Creative Penn didn’t exist and I didn’t have a business at all. I wasn’t on any social networks and I didn’t know anything about them at that point. The Kindle hadn’t been released outside of the US and ebooks weren’t mainstream. I didn’t even know what ebooks were. There was no KDP or Nook PubIt or Smashwords or BookBaby (or I didn’t know they existed if they were there). Print on demand existed but wasn’t mainstream. I didn’t have a podcast and I had never made a video before. I basically had no online presence, no email list, no way to connect with anyone.

I was living in Australia and just about to get married. I read only print books and owned over 1500 physical books, many of which I had shipped from the UK, to New Zealand and then on to Brisbane, Australia.

Where are you now on your writing journey, in August 2012? (London Olympics)

Again, write this down in a notebook and add to the comments if you would like to share. I hope we can all look back at this so please be honest. You can see where I was 4 years ago!

I have 2 thriller novels out, Pentecost and Prophecy, in the ARKANE series. They have sold ~40,000 copies. I have finished the first draft of the third book in the series, Exodus and I’m working on 2 other fiction books. I have signed with a New York literary agent to represent my fiction. I have 2 non-fiction books available, including a re-release of my career change book, How to love your job or find a new one. I have a fiction website and blog at has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2 years running and has monthly visitors of ~ 40,000. The Creative Penn podcast has over 130 episodes, over 70 hours of free audio on writing, publishing and book marketing. It has had over 60,000 downloads. My YouTube channel has had over 102,000 views. I am on multiple social networks, primarily twitter @thecreativepenn where I have close to 30,000 followers.

I am a full-time author-entrepreneur. I make a living from writing, speaking, selling multimedia courses and consulting on internet marketing.

I have been happily married for 4 years and now live in London, England. I read 90% of the time on my Kindle or my iPhone and we left 99% of our print books in Australia.

Reading this I am pretty happy with the progress of the last 4 years, even though the route here has been a twisty one. Building the business and starting writing fiction have been my main aims. My next focus will be seriously building my fiction brand and backlist.

Where will you be in August 2016? (Rio Olympics)

This is the tough one. You need to be visionary for this. I can also guarantee that whatever you write, the reality will surpass it (if you put in the Olympic training). Who said your writing goals have to be insignificant?

By August 2016, I want to have 10 thriller novels available and be a New York Times bestselling author. I will combine my books between traditional publishing houses and self-publishing. My print and ebooks will be available in multiple languages and I will have an email list of over 20,000 readers who are keen for my books. Financially, I will be earning 6 figures from my fiction.

I’ll still be happily married, but I won’t commit to a physical location, since I have moved every few years all my life! I love London but I won’t rule out more traveling :)

Yes, I plan on revisiting this post and seeing how we all did. I fully intend to still be blogging in 2016.

Again, write this down in a notebook and add to the comments if you would like to share.

Will you commit to the writer’s Olympic training program?

I’m all for visualization as one aspect of peak performance but you actually have to put in the physical effort as well. So, your writer’s Olympic training program for achievement by Rio 2016 should include:

(1) Practice.

Writing – first, last and always. If you don’t do this every day, or week, you won’t make your goals. If the athletes don’t show up, their muscles just get weaker. It’s the same for writers. Show up on the page and get writing. Do you see any of the Olympic athletes making excuses?

(2) Perform and test yourself.

For athletes, they need to test themselves by turning up for championships or competitions. For us, it’s about publishing. Whether that is self-publishing to a professional standard, or querying a traditional publisher, you have to get your books out there if you want to be a pro writer. The only way to test yourself is by having others read your work. Writing for pleasure is fantastic but it is not a professional career. It wouldn’t be an Olympic sport. So get your work out there.

(3) Skills development.

Athletes have coaches and go on training camps. They research techniques for cutting off an extra 0.001 second off their time. They are always improving. We need to focus on that too. Buy some books, pay for a manuscript critique or a developmental editor, go on a course, do an online multimedia program. Write in a different genre. Invest and keep improving your skills.

(4) Brand building and marketing

Usain Bolt has a brand and marketing manager. He needs to run but he also needs to pay the bills, now and into the future. He only has a few years at the top of his game, whereas we have a lifetime career to manage. Yes, we need to write more books but I also believe you need to invest time in building your brand, connecting with your audience and looking after your business. If you do this, you will be earning money for the long term and you’ll be able to write for your (may it be long) lifetime.

If you want to kick it up a notch for the next Olympics, this is what I recommend. What about you? Please do leave a comment below.


This is a reprint from Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn.

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