Skip to content

How Writing Is Like FOOTBALL

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I make no bones about it—football is my favorite sport, especially LSU football. (Geaux Tigers!). A little more than a year ago, I wrote a post comparing writing to baseball. Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but I thought I’d revisit this idea, this time using my favorite sport. (And please—recall this is coming from a fan, not an expert in the sport.)

Like any other sport, football players must spend years preparing: learning the nuances and rules of the game, conditioning themselves, practicing, playing, learning the “market” (how other teams play, what to expect), going out every game with a winning attitude, learning how to be a good loser without losing the thirst, the hunger, the desire to win. In the original post, my uncle posted a comment that stated that even good losers are still losers. Yes and no. Statistically, one team scored lower than the other. Certain players didn’t do as well as others. But it is the attitude the players walk away from the field with that makes them winners or losers in their life off the field. We cannot hang our entire life’s expectation, build our entire identity upon the numbers on the scoreboard (whether we publish at all, one book, or twenty-five); we must build our expectation, our identity on whether or not we’ve “played” to our fullest potential, fulfilled our calling.

As a writer, I have spent years preparing: from the basic fundamental of learning how to spell and write, learning grammar, learning to type, to learning the rules of good writing; conditioning myself and practicing by writing, writing, writing, as well as by working with critique partners and learning how to edit and revise; studying the market—determining which publishers/agents to target and what they’re looking for; approaching each writing session, editor/agent pitch, or contest entry with a positive, “winning” attitude; and learning how to graciously accept rejection from said editors/agents/contests.

Football, obviously, is a TEAM sport. Each player has his individual position to play, but each must also support the team as a whole. This, to me, mirrors the importance of fellowship with other writers which, for me, is represented by my local writing group, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers and my critique partners. When a running back runs an 80-yard touchdown to put his team ahead with only a few seconds remaining on the clock, the team is there to meet him on the sidelines with cheers and congratulations. However, if in the next game he gets tackled on the one-yard line after a run like that, while the team is disappointed, there should be no condemnation, only encouragement and offers to help him improve his tackle-breaking ability—and a look at what the rest of the team can do to help him get into the end zone the next time.

In a writing group, when one of our members makes a sale or wins a contest, my role as a teammate is to be there on the sidelines waiting to give her a high-five, to congratulate her, and to publicly applaud her. When the next one comes back with a rejection, my role as a teammate is to offer support, encouragement, and offer any assistance such as critiquing, editing, etc., that is within my expertise to provide.

When an individual player takes the field, he knows why he’s there. When I sit down at my computer to write, I know why I’m there.

In the huddle, when the call is played, each player knows what is expected of him to make the play work. The running back takes his place on the line of scrimmage knowing that the ball might be coming to him—if he can clear the opposing team’s blockers and run the appointed pattern. He runs down the field, hits the right spot and turns, not knowing whether the ball is actually coming to him. But he knows he has to be in position for it to happen. I wait for inspiration to strike, not knowing from where it will come. But I know I have to be in position—that is, ready to write—in order to take advantage of inspiration when it comes.

The ball is passed. One of four things happens to the running back: (1) He doesn’t catch the ball—it may be over- or underthrown, it may go right through his fingers, or someone from the opposing team may intercept it. (2) He catches it—and then fumbles. (3) He catches it and may even get to run—but is then tackled. (4) Or he catches it and runs it into the end zone for a touchdown. When ideas/inspiration come my way, similar things can happen. (1) I can let it go right by me because it’s not something that really works—or it may fall short or be too ambitious . . . or I could discover someone else has already come up with that idea and sold it. (2) I can let it go—drop it—and realize I’ve missed something important that I might not ever be able to get back. (3) I can start writing the idea only to discover it’s not going anywhere, or that it’s going somewhere off track. (4) Or I can start writing and get the first down or even score a touchdown. How far I run and whether or not I score depends on how well I’ve prepared myself. And, even if it’s a fabulous piece of work, it may still lead to an tackle on the one-yard line—a rejection.

Once a quarterback throws a touchdown or a running back gets it into the end zone for a score, he’s not told to go sit on the bench and relax and enjoy the rest of the game. The next time his team has possession, he must still play his position. His next play may result in a first down, a score, a fumble, a punt, an interception, a tackle. But he doesn’t quit just because he can’t follow up a touchdown with another touchdown. He keeps working, redoubles his efforts to get that attempted/completed average up, increase his rushing yardage total—and the score too. Just because I final in a contest or receive recognition for my work doesn’t mean I can sit back and rest on my last success. I have to keep writing, keep improving, keep studying, keep practicing to remain in the game.

  1. Tuesday, July 10, 2007 6:48 pm

    An excellent analogy. And a comfort to know that starting something that doesn’t work out the way you thought it would isn’t a mark of failure. I just need to pick myself up and carry that ball again.

    You’re an excellent teammate! And I LOVE football!


  2. Wednesday, July 11, 2007 1:10 am

    Here here! I grew up in a football family, so your analogy hits the target. Especially being tackled on the one yard line.

    I love being part of this team:)


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: