Writers Swagger

I cover High School athletes for a living and it never ceases to amaze me how dedicated and focused many of these kids are. They are dedicated to their sport and develop a love for what they’re doing that bears it out in their success on the field.

It takes an a certain kind of work ethic to be an athlete. It’s the type of dedication to trot yourself out there every day and work out with little immediate incentive. That takes vision and the patience to say “this will help me in the long run.”

There’s also another element that all successful athletes have, but some  may not be express outwardly. It’s called swagger— a certain sway to their step and look to them that says “damn this guys good” Part of the definition says that there is a certain insolence and arrogance to it, which may turn off some, but it’s not the arrogance you are thinking of. It’s the type of defiance to stand up and put down all the doubts; to strut in it’s face and say I am not afraid to fail.

During the recent NBA finals so much has been made of LeBron James and his fourth quarter failures. For those uninitated to basketball, James is the Miami Heat guard that promised the moon upon arriving in South Beach as a free agent and withered in crunch time during the biggest games of his career. Now there are whispers that the best player in basketball is a choker.

There’s an interesting article posted on Yahoo Sport  that takes a look at the issue from an interesting angle. The article exhorts the opinion of a Sports Psychologist to tell us why James seemed to choke every time the fourth quarter hits. His conclusion is that when an elite athlete like James are under the intense pressure and scrutiny like he is under, he starts to think about the consequences during during the game and his body releases Cortisol, which is the main ingredient in our fight or flight response. That’s not what you need in a situation you need all your wits about you. It’s what a layman would describe as letting your emotions getting the best of you so. It causes him to miss a few shots and soon the best player starts to play scared.  To make it worse, the response is predicated upon the moment not the event itself so every time the fourth quarter hits, he’s apt to relive the nightmare over again.

The article goes on to say that the solution is not to run away from the situation, but instead to relive the situation over and over again. To watch yourself fail over and over again until the emotional response disappears and you’re able to examine the situation without emotion and stay in control. In essence the best way to get past something is to dwell on it and mull over failure until you develop the type of chip on your shoulder to say “Never again.”

Writing will never be the most physically demanding of tasks and the only injury we writers will ever have to worry about is a future bout of Carpal Tunnels Syndrom, but there really isn’t more mentally demanding task then to sit in front of the computer and produce something that people would want to read.

I  go through the same doubts and fears as some of the people I cover, but in a different forms. A writing teacher I had once told me about the “I Suck Spiral”  where you start to believe that every single word you produce is a pile of dog shit and that “you really suck at this.” The moment the “I Suck Spiral” hits there’s no more creativity and sometimes it snowballs into doubts about whether this is the career for me.

Unlike our athletically inclined brethren there isn’t an opponent that’s guarding you or a defensive lineman trying to take your head off that ever really motivates us. Nor is there a championship to strive for or a team to rely on—our demons come in different forms. It’s that need to get up and get a glass of water after every 30 words you write, it’s the 20th  rejection letter that comes in mail on your manuscript, it’s people that tell you that this isn’t really a career that will make you money. My solution is to take a page from sports and develop my own type of swagger. The willingness to say “I refuse to let this beat me.”  To say this story will be finished if it kills me and you will have no choice but to recognize how fucking good this is.

Strange to hear isnt it?

Well that’s the catharsis necessary to write. To quit reliving all those moments of doubt and approach this task with the fortitude necessary to keep pecking away, to keep on cutting words and refining. To simply believe that yes,  I am really good at this.

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The Forever Doubts

There’s something I like to call the Forever Doubts—that lingering creeping feeling that nothing is ever right. That nothing is ever going to be perfect. It leads to questions, it leads to inaction and it leads to stagnation.

The muse is the type of mystical thing that produces wonderful pieces of works. It’s when we are at our best as writers when the words simply flow and the scenes just seem to come to life. When our fingers glide over the keys and everything we touch is gold. We save those moments and call them published works; the types of things we show to mom, dad and all of our writing friends.

Yet there’s a dark side to that all writers know and that is the Forever Doubt because it never really goes away for as long as we call ourselves writers. We worry that the right word will never come, that our book will never be finished —that we simply aren’t good enough to do this at all.

For every easy scene, for every finished story there are those moments when the words just trickle out, unseemly and anemic; when you simply hold that goddamn delete key after every paragraph you write. That’s when you think about shutting down the computer and walk away like this time it’s forever That is the Forever Doubt; as much a fabric of our writers life as the muse itself.It’s foolish to fight it or wish for it to go away. Those that  do never really get started in the first place. Those people are the front runners, the ones that write when it strikes their fancy.

No person makes a sustainable career out of  writing waiting to “simply feel like it.”

True writers own the Forever Doubt. They stare it in the face and peck out every unsightly word and wear out that delete key until they have to replace it with another one. Those are the people that own the moment and have swagger to accept every failed word, paragraph and story they ever produced. That type of person isn’t just unafraid to produce an utter piece of shit, but revels in all its crappy glory because they know that beneath the heaping pile is the muse and when she comes success is sure to follow.

Deadline Day

This week I was given a story to do that was in essence Mission Impossible. Four days to finish an enterprise story that usually requires a week or two. Like most reporters, a lot of us pull double sometimes triple duty and I’m no different. On most days I lay out wire pages or do the front page so rarely is there a day I strictly focus on writing.

There’s always doubts that tend to crop up ‘what ifs’ are what I like to call them: the prospect of not finishing on time or  that a source you need is unreachable at the very moment you need them. If your not careful all those thoughts can become all consuming and then there is writers block. To a reporter that simply is not allowed to happen. There is not enough time to take a break or put down a story like fiction writers tend to do. The only thing there is to do is work through it and live with what you got.

Now I’ve worked as a journalist for a while and I can live with something that isn’t perfect, but it’s another thing all together when you get a raw deal. In this case a deadline got pushed  up by two months and in my mind that was not only completely unfair to me, but it’s unfair to the story and the people that you are writing about.

The entire time that I was working this story there wasn’t any doubt about the story because it was a good one, it was about the fact that I’m rushing this story through unnecessarily. That given a week or two I could ruminate on this story, reasearch all the angles and dive in with a precise idea of what I’m writing about.

I had none of that and it really pissed me off.

Strangely enough, that became all the motivation I needed to get this done. There was a sense that a cosmic force of destruction was trying to ruin this story, but there was also a sense of wanting to give the evil deadline gods a big F-you. That this’ll be the  best damn story no matter how many days you gave me to do this.

Every writer has their reasons for staying up late at night clattering away at the computer keys, churning out page after page. In this case I was at the office till 3 a.m. pecking away because wanted the right to step into the office next time and say that i did the impossible and did it well.

Marathon men

For the very first time the Giants were still playing by the time I got home tonight.

By the time they start night games at home, I’m in the middle of my shift on the sports desk at t he Vallejo Times-Herald. When the game is over I’m scrambling to stick it on the front page before the 10:30 deadline or dealing with other business after all my pages are out.

Well tonight I stepped into my car and  turned on the radio. To my delight the Giants  just started the 11th inning and by the 13th I slipped into bed with my pajamas on blogging for all of you after a Giants win. San Francisco were the marathon men tonight and tomorrow I begin my own version of a 13 inning game tomorrow.

Before the game even played an inning the Major League baseball draft was under way. The Giants drafted Joe Panik out of St. John’s and later the high schooler Tyler Crick, a right handed pitcher out Texas in the first round. Well tomorrow is round 2, but I’ll be covering the proceedings for sfdugout.com on my day off.

It’ll be a long drive to Foster City to meet with my cohorts at sfdugout.com, but I look forward to the challenge of of getting to know all the future draft picks for the Giants. I expect it to be a grind, but also a lot of fun and by the end of the day, you can bet I’ll be an expert on the draft picks you’ve probably never heard of.