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