Writing about sports is not as easy as it may seem. Writing in general is difficult no matter what the topic. It requires thinking, which is hard for some reason. Logic and words make for a swirling, often intractable cocktail. Writing is also lonely and a little crazy. But let's put aside that
pity party and explore another one.
I learned recently that proofreading, a necessary irritant in the writing game, is tedious and difficult. It's the mental equivalent of carrying an arm full of bricks. I know how to proofread but it doesn't tingle my mind. It slows down my life, which is getting shorter.
On my mind is whether writing about sports should be about entertainment, insightfulness, or just giving the facts straightforwardly. The answer is all three, of course. It's a package deal. To
be great like Michael Jordan, who excelled at shooting, defending and jumping, a writer needs to excel at all of these or will be an also-ran and wallow in obscurity and probably live in a small apartment or house. Mess up one of the three and you are less of a writer, frustrated to no end. Do a good job on all three and your writing may still be lame.
You never really know with writing. It's guessing. It's non-stop wondering what people think about what you have written if they read it at all, which is often improbable.
At the heart of all this ruminating is joy or lack thereof. If proofreading doesn't bring you joy, why should you do it? The answer is because if you submit copy with typos in it, the reader thinks less of you and you definitely don't want that. Or do you? Maybe you shouldn't care. I'm
not sure. Proofreading, while joyless, makes the reader more pleased because they have a less discombobulated reading experience. Pleasing the reader is what the writer needs to focus on if he or she wants to be read and get fed. I suppose.
It's like any business. If you don't give what the customer wants, they won't buy. This issue for a writer is profound: Do you want to give yourself more joy by just writing free and wild and letting your hair down and let it get all messy? Or do you want to give joy to your reader?
Does a writer need to care about any readers to be good at his or her craft? I don't know and this question is nagging me.
Years ago I heard a New York Times reporter say that writers should write for themselves because that produces the best writing. If that's the case, the writing may satisfy the writer. Ignoring what the reader wants, however, is risky. If a writer worries about pleasing the reader, the writer gets distracted from his or her own joy. That joylessness tends to reveal itself in the writing. Joylessly written copy makes for joyless reading.
Let me be more specific. I recently wrote a straightforward blow by blow comparative analysis preview article about two pro football teams that were playing each other. I found this to be a miserable experience. But it was what the editor requested, presumably because he believes his readers dig that type of article. It took me about eight tedious hours to research the article and then write it. During the process I felt like a man in a straightjacket, tied up like a prisoner, doing what someone else wanted, but not what I wanted. The article came across in tone the way I felt producing it: dry, pedestrian, turgid and non-penetration. It was boring reading worthy of scoffing condemnation and ridicule.
The editor rejected the article. Although I did the work, there was no payoff for me or the customer or the editor. I was so strung out and hemmed in doing this assignment I forgot to proofread the copy well enough before submitting. The editor told me to get lost-for a long time, basically forever.
Lie lesson learned. Don't write what you don't want to write even if an editor insists his readers will like it. Write what brings you a natural buzz, like this sentence in which I will deliberatively include about thirty words for no other reason than to prove a point that I will write about
sports in my way and no one else's even if means no one ever reads anything else I ever write until the horses all eat the stack of hay before going to the barn for some shut-eye. Thirty words, twenty words, 140 characters-they mean nothing to me. This feeling I have had spilling this sentence is what counts for everything.
Sports writing is not just about sports. It's about life, death, freedom, expression, rejuvenation, perpetuation, determination, fear, and risk. There are a few hundred other words that could be added if you searched dictionary.com and thesaurus.com and browsed for 30 minutes or so. But really, why bother? Sports writing reminds me of taking sides in a debate and digging in without compromising. You must say what you want to say because this is your only chance to do so. You have one life, one moment, one keyboard, one brain. Stop all the senility of trying to please editors who have their own agendas and writing insecurities as deep or deeper than yours. We are a selfish world in too many ways because we have to be. Darwin preached that. He nailed it.
Some of the best writing these days gets posted on blogs that never get read. Some of the best athletes sit on their couches on Sundays and watch pro football rather than play it. Some editors wish they were gymnastics instructors or dictators or just don't know what they want. So they
became editors. They write on the side. But not much because editing is easier and less scary. It's more psychologically soothing and palatable to criticize other people's writing rather than create your own and have others criticize theirs. They are smart to avoid writing, in some ways, but lack a writer's joyful life. They should have more courage.
Sports and writing are soulmates. There are clear-cut winners and losers. There are rules and boundaries and way too many uncertainties. There is unhappiness and frustration and sometimes joy. There is nothing to it and everything to it. There is the essence of being a person. And it is meaningless in the grand scheme of life. In a writing life, as in sports, losing lingers much longer than winning and happens way too often.