A couple of years ago my husband rediscovered basketball. He used to like it as a kid, but grew up and became a bookworm-musician and gave up the television. Like, completely gave it up. Coworkers of his once asked him how he could dislike TV when “it asks so little and gives so much.” He laughed along, but to him TV took way more than it gave. He didn’t even own one until he married me and except for an occasional episode of “The Simpsons” never watched. But after a decade of marriage to me, the story-lover in all its forms, books, TV, feature films, he couldn’t resist its siren song any longer. What lured him the most was NBA and WNBA basketball and only to keep him company, I started watching. (A KU alum my only interest in basketball was near March madness when it was time to break out the blue and red and yell Rock Chalk Jayhawk!) I never expected to enjoy it, but now I’m hooked.
To my great surprise, the game is full of fascinating stories. I’ve been inspired by players (Linsanity!), teams (bad-ass Dallas in last year’s playoffs) and spectacular plays (watch this Rudy Fernandez tip-in at the buzzer). Though watching the game with me is a little like the time Luna Lovegood called one of the Quidditch matches (I probably notice new hairstyles on the players and who’s sitting on the sidelines at the games a bit more than your average sports fan.)
My biggest surprise though has been that basketball has taught me some things that can be applied to writing, including:
Be confident and keep at it. I’m not a Kobe fan by any stretch of the imagination, but damn if he didn’t teach me something in an interview broadcast during a Lakers game. He said something like “If this shot doesn’t go in, I know it’ll be the next shot. If that shot doesn’t go in, it’ll be the next. And if that shot doesn’t go in, I know the next shot will drop.”
How many would-be writers do you know who sit down once or twice and give up when it gets, you know, hard? Hell, I’ve had 5 books published with my name on the cover and I still have moments when I fear this one is going to be the one to take me under. This is when I quit. But, like Kobe, (drat!) I don’t quit, and if I’m really on my game that day, I tell myself, “If this draft isn’t great, the next one will be. And if not, the next one, then the one after that.”
Of course, Kobe can trust his shot because he’s got years and years of shooting behind him. So, another lesson: practice, practice, practice.
Do what works in the moment. Even the greatest players sometimes go cold. Their shots just won’t go in. So they figure out another way to help their teams win. Rebounds, assists, steals. Writers can do the same. If you’re writing a particular scene and it’s just not coming. Forget about it and move on to something else. Can’t seem to write something new to save your soul? Forget writing and edit. Editing is uninspired? Try this: go to an online thesaurus and look for different words. I’m not suggesting substituting fancy words where simple will do best. I find that sometimes a few minutes with a thesaurus will get me thinking creatively again and before I know it instead of replacing words, I’m actually writing. But even if that doesn’t happen, it feels good to know I’ve replaced weak verbs with strong ones or abstract words with more concrete.
Listen to your coach. I envy professional athletes their coaches more than I do their money and fame. To go to work every day with someone there whose sole purpose is to help you get better at what you do? Wow. I doubt if there’s a life coach who’d like to sit next to my desk while I write each morning, and I couldn’t afford it even if someone was willing. Luckily, I have writer friends who help me buck up when I’m feeling low. And I come to forums like Writer Unboxed to keep learning, which if you’re reading this you obviously do to. Listening to professional players discuss their relationship with their coaches is a reminder that regular visits here and chatting with my writer friends is important and necessary.
Do it for love. Women basketball players don’t make near the amount of money that the men do. But so what, says Notre Dame player Skylar Diggins. In a New York Times Magazine story, she was asked “As a high-school basketball player in South Bend, Ind., you were considered a phenom in the vein of LeBron James. But LeBron made $4 million in his first season in the N.B.A. The top W.N.B.A. salary is about $105,000. Does this depress you?” Her wise response: “If it’s about money, you shouldn’t play.” She went on to say women can’t sit on the bench and wave a towel (like NBA players) and get paid $400,000 a year, so female college players know they have to have a strong plan B.
As Sharon Bially said this week, most writers will need a day job to supplement our income. There’s a lot about publishing that seems unfair. Slam dunks are rare. Most of us will be midlist writers or bench players, and like Diggins won’t make much money. Women writers, minority writers, genre writers, literary fiction writers, and poets all have valid complaints. But…so what? We do what we can to raise awareness and try to improve things (see my blog White Readers Meet Black Authors to see what I do) and we keep writing. Because we have stories to tell and we love it.
Who knew jocks and writers had so much in common?
Any basketball fans out there? What have you learned from watching or playing basketball or another sport?