My husband and I went to play tennis recently after weeks of being away from the court. If we get a few consistent days of play in, I can do pretty OK. But if there is a gap, it’s a tough road. This past time when we returned to the court after a gap, it was no different. I was losing. Down 2-4, I could almost see the future. Just two more games, and I’d lose. As usual.

But then something happened. I decided I was not going to lose. I was going to win. Sure, my opponent had more skill. And he had technique. He could talk about what to do to make a certain shot. Me? I could play, but I couldn’t conduct a clinic on shot selection or anything.

But what I could do was dig deep. My mental strength would have to compensate for my physical limitations. That, and the fact that he was nursing an old injury — the reason for our hiatus from the court. So I decided to make it all work for me.

And from there, I won the next four games to take the set 6-4. That determination carried over into our second set. I won it, too. On that day, I was the one who left the tennis court victorious, even though history was against me and I wasn’t the one with the superior skills. When hubby told me as we left the court, “The score is not an indication of skill,” I had to agree.

But sometimes, our results aren’t about how much we know, how skilled we are, or how many advantages we come into the game holding. Sometimes, our results are about whether we can dig deep. Sometimes, mental strength, grit, and work ethic can overcome what we lack.

It’s the same in your writing career.

Here are three lessons from this tennis match that can help in your writing career:

You’ve got to decide to win

It’s likely that you won’t accidentally win. That doesn’t really happen. You’ll have to make up your mind to do so. When you do, things start to happen. You begin to make conscious and subconscious decisions that help you along. I like watching science shows about quantum physics, specifically parallel universes, entanglement, and related matter. Things are really weird in the quantum world, even allowing seemingly unrelated things to affect each other. In fact, our thoughts can create our realities. So if we decide to win, then our thoughts can help create that reality. You might think this is weird talk for a blog about the business of writing, but when your thoughts are helping you create a better, more successful career, you won’t think it’s so weird. So yeah, decide to win. Decide you will do what it takes to get the result you seek.

How can you apply this in your career? It means send out 50 more queries. It means follow up with ten more people. It means dust off that manuscript and get it done.

Keep your head in the game

Deciding to win is not a one-time action. It is a constant series of decisions. You have to stay with it. When I won the first set of our tennis match, I shut down mentally. I had accomplished my goal. I had won. I wasn’t prepared for another set because the sky was overcast, and I thought we’d just leave. But when my husband asked if I felt like another set, I nodded. Sure. But because I had shut down mentally, I wasn’t ready to play. My first few shots weren’t all that great. I had to get my head back into the game.

Another time, I was up 15-40 and had only to get one more point to break my husband and win that game. But again, I relaxed. Because I knew I had a cushion, my head wasn’t in the game. I thought I could coast and win. I lost that game. My husband came back and overtook me, even though all I had to do was win one point. But I couldn’t do it, because my head wasn’t right. So the next game, I had to gather myself and focus again. I was able to continue on and win the match. But it wouldn’t have happened if I had continued to let my thoughts get away from me.

So it is with us in our writing careers. We have to keep our heads in what we are doing. If we shut down or get distracted, that can spell disaster. We can make silly mistakes and lose our momentum. If we get off-track or lose sight of our objective, we can fall behind and are in jeopardy of never catching up. The world of business is constantly changing. We can’t afford to get distracted.

How can you apply this in your career? Keep an active to-do list. Plot objectives and dates on your calendar. Don’t let your projects get away from you because of life’s events. Life will happen, but if you have a current to-do list and you plan your activities, this can help you stay focused — or focus again — on what you need to do next to keep moving forward.

Make strategic decisions

When we played our match, I knew my husband was recovering from an injury and that meant he wasn’t going to chase down any far-flung shots. So I used that to my advantage. To the extent that I could plan and execute the planned shot (not an easy feat), I did. I tried to hit shots straight up his middle that would be difficult to return, or others to the corners that he most likely would not chase down. Use my knowledge of my opponent’s injury? Absolutely!

In your writing career, use the knowledge and information around you to make strategic decisions to give yourself an advantage.

How can you apply this in your career? This can mean becoming a specialist writing about a certain industry because you used to work in it. Or it can mean noticing that a top competitor is no longer filling a need and seeing a way that you can step in to do so. It can even mean seeing how technology is changing an industry and tweaking your business model to respond to the changes and capture new clients. When you make strategic adjustments based on changing conditions, you can create your own success.

You might not feel that you are the most talented writer. You might have little or no formal training. You might even see where you have room to grow. But if you can dig deep, decide to do what it takes to make that career happen, stay focused, and make strategic decisions, you can have a winning writing career.