This Is Not About Sports. Ok, It Kind Of Is.

I was listening to Boomer & Carton on WFAN (New York area sports talk radio for those outside my universe) yesterday morning on my horrendous drive to work and they were discussing the sorry state of the Mets. (Always glad I’m a Yankee fan.) On just about every show, there is just one itty-bitty item that sets off Boomer Esiason that you would never expect, and he gets all heated and passionate, and then they move onto the next thing. Yesterday, at about 6:15am, Boomer went on a tirade against the Mets pitcher Oliver Perez accusing him of not having the mental gumption to get through a competitive game. He said that Perez just didn’t have the competitive spirit–the backbone of sports–that major league baseball requires to be successful.

While I was zoning out and waiting for the talking heads to get to a real baseball team with prospects for a successful future (e.g., the Yankees), I perked up when I heard Boomer articulate his thoughts on this pitcher.  I couldn’t help but get drawn in to what was not only a message from one very successful former professional athlete to a struggling pro, but the debate about Perez’s fundamental talent versus his competitive spirit, and psychological make-up of someone facing enormous public pressure.

And so there it is, my proposed baseball analogy that you all know and love about me. Some will have stopped reading already, but I do contend that perhaps we should be having a parallel debate about how come some writers just don’t succeed despite their talent. It’s been very easy lately to paint those writers as fundamentally flawed if they can’t market themselves and leverage technology–independent or not. While that is true to a certain extent, the notion of competitive spirit is something we don’t hear much about in the independent writing community. Many of us are indeed talented, many are not, and yet the success rate doesn’t necessarily reflect those proportions respectively.

So what does having the gumption to bear enormous pain (rejections), adversity (bad reviews), dealing with a weak link in the team (lack of publishing support), and come out of it a better athlete (writer) mean? It means coming out fighting and focused on prevailing. Setting your objective to W-I-N and never faltering is how professional athletes continue on despite injuries, losing streaks, and media-bashing. So then we writers have a few lessons to learn about channeling our mental energy when preparing to launch our work into the world. When I used to train as a boxer, my trainer would keep telling me, “Don’t be afraid of failure, you have to go all the way.” I didn’t understand what he was saying. I only learned what it meant when I met people who indeed never took a step ahead because they were petrified of failing, so they stayed still. Static.

As Lefsetz says (geez, I never quote that guy…thanks, Mike Cane), half-assing it will never get you anywhere.

Well, fuck, man, I have a day job, car payments, debt, school loans, and most importantly, two amazing beautiful little kids to support. I am implicitly half-assing my writing “career”, and so what do I expect–a 5-picture deal from MGM to adapt my stories to the screen? Hell no. Ain’t going to happen. Writing is not the lottery.

It’s not that I don’t have the competitive gumption. I’m not even giving myself the opportunity to effectively compete because of the obstacles I’ve set up for myself. If I really, REALLY wanted to be a widely-read author, I’d quit my dayjob, sell the house, learn to love eating cat food, take my kids out of their school and put them in the public system along with the meth addicts here in my town, and write 10 hours a day. For 10 years. And eat cat food. And go out every weekend to force myself into readings EVERYFUCKINGWHERE. I’d be writing up and down everywhere for every magazine, journal, and internetz blog I could get access to.

I’m not doing that. Are you?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “This Is Not About Sports. Ok, It Kind Of Is.

  1. Starting off with some Mets-bashing and a Carton reference (he’s a total fucktard), I almost didn’t get through this, but I think you’re stretching the analogy a bit too thin just so you can beat yourself up with it. Writing’s not a zero-sum game; some can dedicate 110% of the their time, and some have to juggle a bunch of other responsibilities. I’d say it takes a lot more competitive spirit to walk in your shoes and not give up than it does to be the starving artist who sacrifices everything. Fuck that martyr shit!

    You do need some patience, though. You seem to want to jump to the end of the ride, but there’s all kinds of sights to see along the way. Enjoy the journey!

    • you are so right about a lot of points–as echoed by my husband many times. but i’ll still disagree with you on the mets.

      i’m an all-in kind of person and it bugs me that i’ve put myself in this position. but then it wouldn’t be work if it was fun, right?

      thanks, as always.

  2. yearzerowriters

    Mets bashing bring it on, though somehow the Phillies contrived to lose to the Pirates with our ace on the mound yesterday…

    Anyhoo, I think writers do have to be competitive and driven clearly. T’was ever thus to negotiate their way through rejection after rejection. Cussed as much as competitive.

    But while they have to have a modicum of talent, how they use their time has changed over the last few years. Rather than the cliched loner starving in the attic alone and unloved, now we have to spend 25 hours a day making our presence known on constructing the platform that will ultimately host our scaffold – do we fall through the trapdoor, or do we dangle, still with our toes in contact with the floor? We are asked to do what Reality TV stars do, push our sordid little egos forward into the public glare, make ourselves sound interesting enough to attract followers … the sales will come after that.

    That’s the area where we have to compete. Fighting our own inner demons and external calls on our time is just par for the course. Sports guys make lousy fathers because they are so one-tracked minded. Writers have to retain some of their humanity to be able to write and stay in touch with a readership by it.

    I yearn for the days when no one knew what authors looked like. They let their books speak for themselves. No longer. Now they all have to give good, snappy talking head online. I ain’t never getting what I yearn for back.

    You can also be stymied by a fear of success as much as a fear of failure btw.

    marc nash

  3. This is why I follow your writing/blogging, Jenn – you understand what it’s like to try to promote a book, write the next one and juggle a family and day job. I just took a week’s holiday (that I REALLY needed) and spent half an hour checking in on my sales/contacts/advertising every day. It sucks.

    I don’t buy into the “succeed or die trying” mentality, as that implies that success is the only reward of writing (and I find people like that distasteful to be around) but I do understand the effort we have to make as indies with a real life to support. It sometimes gets me down, and it sometimes makes me want to give up, but it always comes back to me, at my computer, writing, and that’s always going to be part of my life.

    One thing I’ve learned over the last six months is that there is something more important to indie writers than the will to succeed, and that’s the support of friends. Not “friends” trying to ride your coattails, or those that say much and do little, but those friends that really support you and help promote you and your writing without you having to ask. It is possible to be a successful indie on your own, but with a family and full-time job, I don’t think you can do it alone.

    Good luck.

    • Ah, friends–that’s an interesting one. It’s kind of like when you announce you have cancer: some people just split, because they can’t deal with the news; and others support the hell out of you. Many of what I expected to be my support network split once I published.

      My own brother, “You write too much. How the hell do you expect me to read all that?”

      So, while you’re right, my support network is thin. You guys, however, are in a virtual category of your own. (Get it? Virtual? See what I did there?)

      Thanks. And good luck to you, too. I love your book.

      • Thanks – I’m glad you like it (you did get that free code to keep reading, didn’t you?).

        Some friends do act strangely when you do something “out of the ordinary” but I’m ok with that – when you’re on new territory, you have to expect change, and it also changes how people perceive you. I’m only disappointed in people when they say they’ll do something, then don’t; all that does is hold me back.

        BTW – that was so spooky you got a reply from Warren Ellis; he’s my favourite comics writer. You’re honoured, even if it was inadvertent…

  4. mikecane

    Bah. Others held down full-time shit, still wrote, still made it.

    How Much Can You Take?

    And all you’re doing here is setting up comparisons. X has this, why don’t I? Fuck that. Like asking why your eyes are one color and not another.

    • I disagree–I’m not making comparisons that I don’t have stuff and someone else does. I know exactly why I’m in the position I’m in–because I put myself here.

      We all make choices in life for self-preservation. Well, now that I have kids, it’s all about kid-preservation. Like I said, writing shouldn’t be treated as a lottery ticket to lift us from our quotidien burdens, because that’s where so much needless pressure exists.

      Guy is right, no more martyr shit.

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