Spartans, What is Your Profession?

The Spartan (Sparty) MSU CampusFaltering Fandom:  I don’t often talk about sports with my writing friends. Other than the occasional, “You knocked it outta the park,” I’m not even a big fan of sports metaphors. They mostly seem clichéd or contrived. That’s not to say I’m not a sports fan. I am. Back in my days in business, watching professional and college sports was not only entertaining but an undemanding diversion from the work-a-day life. On occasion I still watch entire games, but I think since I started writing I’ve filled the majority of those hours with reading. In spite of my faltering enthusiasm for sports, I still follow the progress of my favorite teams.

Loyalist or Masochist? I suppose largely because football (of the American variety) was my dad’s game, it’s always been my favorite as well. Seems like an old-fashioned notion, but my dad believed in staying loyal to a team. When I was a boy, because they were successful at the time, I once told him I was a Green Bay Packers fan. This did not sit well with Dad. His disapproval must’ve struck a chord with mini-me. Because of this, since I’ve always considered Michigan my home, and since I graduated from Michigan State University, my two football teams have always been the Detroit Lions and the Michigan State Spartans. Yep—I’m one of those: a (mostly) longsuffering fan. A sports masochist, so to speak.

Magic in the Air: There’s been a stirring in the late autumn air here in the Mighty Mitten. A sort of gridiron magic that is lingering longer than the typical cold snap. This time it’s gaining momentum—like a winter storm front sweeping across the Great Lakes. As of the writing of this, the Lions are leading their division at 7-5. Just before I started writing I actually heard an analyst call the Lions: “The most talented team in the NFL.” (Reality check: He also called them sloppy and inconsistent, but still…)

Prepare for Glory! Then there are the Spartans. Saturday night I was up very late (for me) watching my alma mater’s teamSpartan logo white on green win the Big Ten Championship game and a Rose Bowl bid. And they did it in convincing fashion, by soundly beating the #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. I haven’t been that worked up about a sporting event… well, since the last time MSU won the Big Ten and a Rose Bowl bid… In 1987 (in a game against Indiana that I attended).

The play of these kids (let’s face it—I’m fast-approaching being old enough to be the players’ grandfather) has really captured my imagination and enthusiasm. As we did in January of ’88, my wife and I are even considering making the trip to Pasadena to watch “our kids play ball” on the big stage of the 100th edition of the Grand-daddy of All Bowl Games.

Just an Arcadian: Although I am excited by my Spartans, I am not a player or a coach. I don’t have any kin playing. I have rarely attended games in the past ten years (as I age I’ve become increasingly less fond of crowds and traffic). These Spartans are merely kids playing a game for a school I attended over twenty-five years ago.

If Spartan King Leonidas had asked after my vocation, I would’ve dropped my gaze to my sandals and murmured, “I’m but a scribe, sire.” But that doesn’t mean my heart wouldn’t swell in hearing the reply when Leonidas asked the same of his 300 men. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t feel inspired by the bravery and determination of  those who share an institutional alliance and a common sense of place with me here in The Mighty Mitten.Spartans. what is your profession

Sleepless in Sparta: I went to bed after the game, but it left me tossing and turning, unable to settle to slumber after the exhilaration of witnessing sporting history. So rather than counting invading Persians (or blitzing Buckeyes), or reciting memorized lines from 300, I contemplated how these Spartans have captured my imagination. And I actually concluded that it has much to do with the current state of my writing journey. In the spirit of citizenship with my fellow scribes, I thought I’d share the ways:

*Quiet Competence: As sporting teams go, in this age of swag and brag, this Spartan team has stayed relatively quiet. There’s little talk and much devotion to a work ethic. They seem to understand that results are what matter. Even though they are amateurs (kids, as I mentioned), they’ve maintained a workmanlike professionalism about the game.

The same goes for writing. Impressive word counts, blog stats, even pretty pages of prose—none of it matters in the face of a successful manuscript. For each work-in-progress, I need to focus on the result of a finished story arc that satisfies. A pro seeks success and doesn’t bother himself with distractions or peripherals. If I choose to be a novelist, only successful novels count. I’m in this for the long haul. I want to write many more books. I want to be a pro. I should act like one.

*Adapt and Grow/Play all four quarters: The Spartans have come a long way since their only loss in mid-September (yes, Domers, we remember—to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish). The Spartans have learned from their mistakes. Even within the context of a game, the Spartans—particularly on defense—are constantly adjusting and adapting. Even when they were down this season, they continued to endeavor to find a winning formula. Their game-plan is fluid, and includes discarding what isn’t working and finding success through a willingness to change. They continued to adapt and grow—each drive, each defensive stop, each quarter, each game… All season.

My original game-plan for my trilogy included a prologue and opening with an examination of the childhoods of five primary characters. Even after six major rewrites, and an opening quite different from that of the first game-plan, I’m still not sure I’ve found the formula for success. But I know the season is far from over.

*Momentum is All About Attitude: There was a point in the Big Ten championship, late in the first half and early second, that the Buckeyes scored twenty-four unanswered points. They had clearly gained the momentum. The Spartans were on their heels and behind. But there was no quit in their eyes. They kept at it. You could see the ongoing effort, the upright postures. They worked down the field, grinding out an ugly drive that netted them a mere field-goal. They still trailed. Then the defense held the Buckeyes to a three-and-out. They gutted out the most unlikely of momentum shifts late in the game… Against a team that everyone expected to win—not only this game, but a national championship.

We’ve all had rejections. I know I have. And I am subject to bouts of writerly sulk. No matter how many people have read my work and said they’ve enjoyed it, there are days when I am utterly focused on the lesser number of readers who never finished, said they weren’t drawn in, or simply didn’t care for it.

Let’s face it—there are always going to be others who are picked to win. Sometimes it seems like others get all the breaks. If we allow ourselves to get down about it, we’ve already lost. Every game has momentum shifts. There will always be difficult periods. We must keep fighting, with our backs straight and our heads up. Even gutting out a long-shot, low-points score—such as a personalized critique in a rejection or a positive review for a short piece—can change the momentum in our favor.

*Don’t Listen to the Experts/Play Your Own Game: At the season’s onset you would’ve been hard-pressed to find many who would’ve picked the Spartans to win-out their Big Ten schedule, let alone defeat OSU in the championship game. They started the season unranked, and even as late as the kickoff Saturday night, few reckoned them more than a footnote to the collegiate football season. All season long, sports media analysts said they were: too reliant on defense, too reliant on an average running game, had an inexperienced quarterback, etcetera. Today they are calling the Spartans Rose Bowl-bound champions.

I’ve always heard things from “the publishing experts” that boded ill for me. Over the years I’ve heard: I must keep manuscripts under 120K, that women warriors are insulting to women, that fantasy must include a well-ordered system of magic, and that the quest of a protagonist to leadership was the kiss of death. I suppose I’ve decided to play my own game. But then again, when I started ten years ago, I often heard that epic fantasy was passé, that it didn’t sell. Things change.

Spartans Never Retreat, Never Surrender: I know that not every try will result in a win. Finding my way to my own vision of a satisfying story—seen in my mind and felt in my heart—and then finding it again and again, is the only thing that will make my writing journey a success. I’ve been at this quite a while, but I feel like the end of a long but successful first season is in sight. And, with the right inspiration and attitude, I could have a long career ahead.

So yes, Leonidas, I know what my profession is.    Leonidas

Have you ever been inspired by an athlete or a sports team? Are you ready to answer Leonidas with pride? 

20 comments on “Spartans, What is Your Profession?

  1. ddfalvo says:

    I enjoyed your ‘playbook’ for writers, V. You always do a great job of cutting through the writerly fog and setting a clear, victorious path. Leonidas would have valued such a talent, like guiding North star. Besides, it’s the “survivors who write the history.” –so scribes must be multi-talented. There be warriors among us.

    • I don’t think Leonidas has anything against those Arcadians. He would’ve smiled and nodded at the “lowly scribe,” knowing that he needed songs to be sung if the deeds of he and his men would serve to inspire and stir his fellow Greeks. :-) You are surely one of the warrior spirits among my tribe, D. Thank you for your kind words, and for being an inspiration!

  2. brindle808 says:

    Your posts always leave me feeling courageous and optimistic, Vaughn. I particularly resonate with, “Momentum is All About Attitude.” :)

  3. What an inspiring post, Vaughn! I care not a whit for football, but your post made me see it as more than a game. It’s about the human spirit. Woah! I just realized that although I’ve always heard that cheerleaders are “invoking” the spirit of support for the team, I’ve never thought about the game in the light of ancient history. Cheerleaders are like the modern day witches or priestesses or something…

    Thanks for a new perspective on an old game. And isn’t that what art is all about? New perspectives?
    .

    • I think many modern sports are rooted in warrior training, B. Fencing, certainly. But they say the history of football is rooted in rugby and lacrosse, the latter of which was derived from an American Indian game, and certainly evolved from warrior trial and training. Here in Michigan, the braves of the Odawa and Ojibwa tribes even competed inter-tribal contests. I love that take on cheerleaders! Gives new meaning to: “We’ve got spirit, how ’bout you?” ;-)

      That seeking to gain unique perspective is exactly what led to this post. As I say, it’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited by a sports team. Thanks for adding YOUR unique perspective, B!

  4. I guess I am more Spartan than I knew, for all of these things are how I approach writing. Perhaps I should yell “THIS IS SPARTAAAAA!!” every morning as I* sit down at my desk.

    Terrific post again, my friend.

    • I LOVE that idea! I’m not sure how much my wife would love me bellowing each morning. But at least each day when I open the WIP doc, she doesn’t say: “Spartan–come back with my shield… Or on it.” :-)

      Thanks, Lisa!

  5. “A pro seeks success and doesn’t bother himself with distractions or peripherals. If I choose to be a novelist, only successful novels count. I’m in this for the long haul. I want to write many more books. I want to be a pro. I should act like one.”

    Yes, Sir. I bow before you Warrior-Scribe V.

    Part of my learning process has been just that. Knowing that on the days when I’m writing despite some of life’s turmoils, adjusting my process as needed, and going forward even as I spy another mountain to climb, makes me want to “sound my barbaric yawp”. The closer I become to the professional I want to be, the more faith I’m able to place in myself. I think your Spartans understand that. Just like my Cubs. Yes, the Cubs. :) Long-standing family tradition there.

    I’m not a big sports fan, but if there’s a figure I admire, it is Steve Prefontaine. He had heart, and loved running. He tried to give up on it, but it was so intrinsic to who he was, it never let go of its hold on him. Running or writing, I try to remember that. Passion, bravery, and the drive to be a professional, to stand out in my own way, on my own terms.

    Huzzah for this post, and for your indomitable spirit.

    *Raises Spear*

    • Epic comment, Tonia! Love the Whitman-esque “sounding of your barbaric yawp” as you forge ahead. I’m suddenly hearing a lot of Pressfield in this post and the comments. He’s certainly been a huge influence on the evolution of my outlook on the writing life.

      I’m surrounded by Cubbies fans here, Tonia, so certainly don’t mind another one. Speaking of longsuffering. ;-) Although I’m a lifelong Tigers fan, I admire the Cubs fans’ loyalty. And Wrigley is still an awesome place to see a game. The last two big league games I’ve attended have been there. It’s a special place.

      I hadn’t thought about Prefontaine in years. What a great inspiration. Love what he exemplifies for you–so perfect! *clacks spears with warrior-scibe tribe-mate* Thank you for infusing our community with your contagious warrior spirit, my friend!

  6. Julie Luek says:

    In my house, I must cheer for the Broncos. Nothing else is acceptable. I grew up in Pittsburgh though and will always have a soft spot for the “Stillers”.

    And that’s all I have to say (or really know) about that sport.

    As for your writing advice, spot on and very encouraging. Thank you!

    • Lots for Bronco fans to cheer about this year, Julie.

      Quick Bronco story: I was driving by myself from California to Michigan one autumn in the mid-eighties. Nothing makes one sense the scope of the Rockies and the plains like driving them alone. On the Sunday of the trip, I decided to “gut it out” and drive from early morning until I felt it was unsafe to go on (sleepiness-wise). All through the Rockies and on into the plains, the Broncos were the only game in town–on every radio station from town-to-town, state-to-state–from pre-game, to the game itself, to a seemingly unending post-game analysis. They were/are HUGELY popular in middle America! But they kept me from drowsiness (and won!), and I’ve been fond of them since.

      Glad the writing parts resonated for you. Thanks for letting me know!

  7. Thea says:

    I have a confession to make. if I have to deal with someone who I might dislke – intensely – I may find out who their team is, and become a fan of their bitter rival. then the joy of ‘my’ team’s routing of theirs tastes all the sweeter. An unexpected benefit to my evil strategy is that I now know more about football and I see why men get so passionate about the game. Other than that, I have found sports metaphors to be the most practical to use with men when trying to esplane something rather simple to me but way too complex for them. I don’t mean that in a sexist way. But it is what it is. Hey, did you hear they are making a sequel to 300? I thought they all died. This should be interesting.

  8. liz says:

    Oh, this was an encouraging post Vaughn and just what I needed today! (Although you lost me with some of the sports stuff — it is a language in which I am not fluent, much to my eight-year-old’s dismay.) I usually get by with just yelling ‘Go Sox!’

    • I thought of you the night of the game. I recalled how during the World Series you’d been kept up late (albeit for many more nights than I had to endure). You’ve got a good system there. And it works for any sport. When in doubt yell: “Go *team*!” :-) Glad it was encouraging and timely, Liz!

  9. Nicole L. Bates says:

    I loved the movie 300, great pictures and tie-in. I have long been inspired by athletes and athletics. I have always participated in sports and I feel that participation has taught me so many valuable lessons. With running in particular I love the energy, the adrenaline, and most of all I love that there is such a huge variety of ages and abilities. One of the great things about running is that it doesn’t matter if you win the race, it matters if you run a personal best. I think that’s what I’ll try to focus on in my writing career as well. My novels may never be best sellers, but I can always improve, and I can always feel satisfaction in the fact that I’m a part of the race. Thanks for the reminder, Vaughn!

    • Although I no longer run for distance, I recall how magical it can be. There’s something very special about finding “the zone.” There is an alertness that comes inside of a trance–where your breathing and heart-rate synchronize with your pace. Getting in touch with your body in that way opens up your mind. And I agree, it’s liberating and motivating to measure yourself against your personal best. Very nice tie-ins to writing can be found there, Nicole–thanks so much for sharing! Hope you’re keeping warm up there!

  10. How do I keep missing your posts? I thought I signed up… Oh yeah. I haven’t been on feedly in a couple of months. I think I need to sign up for e-mail notifications.

    There. Box clicked, problem solved.

    Anyway! I love this post, because sports and arts really aren’t that different, as far as the process to reach success. Lots of people want to be star athletes – many people want to be star writers (or artists, or musicians). The way to even have a chance to get there involves lots of work and perseverance – in both fields. Your rules are good ones.

    • Howdy Stranger! I feel like I’ve been missing your posts lately, too. As for me–I clearly haven’t kept up with blogging. This post is so old, the Spartans have gone on to win The Rose Bowl, and even that was weeks ago. I am the type who doesn’t try to “force” a post, but this is ridiculous. And how did you know about the comment on your guest post? Thanks for replying to her!

      Yes, there is quite a correlation, at least mentally, between sports and the artistic life. They both take dedication and long-term commitment, as well as perseverance in the face of adversity, as you point out. I’ve been thinking a lot about these things lately. I was talking to another friend yesterday, and said that in all of this pondering, the one thing I’ve become certain of is: If I’m not an artist, I don’t know who I am. Which is funny, since it took me the better part of the ten years I’ve been writing to finally call myself a writer. Now that I’ve finally grown accustomed to it, I can’t imagine naming myself as otherwise occupied. I suppose I should take this as a good thing, and carry on. After all, every dedicated hero (sports or story protagonist) gains power in resigning themselves to some unchangeable aspect of self.

      Anyway, don’t be such a stranger, Lara, and I’ll do the same. Hope all is well with you and your work and the fam! Stay warm this winter, my friend!

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