Sports writing and the art of fiction

Life has a way of telling you it’s time to slow down reassess your priorities and after getting back from a Thanksgiving visit to my sister in Portland my writing life took a backseat to a cold that’s dampered any real momentum gained from a relaxing vacation. Between full-time work and taking cold medecine, I’ve lost about two weeks worth of meaningful writing time, but it has turned into an opportunity to really examine my writing life.

I’m fortunate to have a job that coincides so well with the writing life and over the years there been no better writing teacher then cutting your teeth as a journalist. Aside from writing daily and getting into a rhythm of getting published every week, being a Sports reporter has taught me to be a professional writer.

The difference between between being a writer and a professional writer is that a pro writes for an audience. It’s a shift in mindset that is the difference between writing in your private journal and getting your name in print. The prose doesn’t just honor the self, but the audience that is going to read our work. A professional assesses the expectations that come with any writing situation and writes with the mindset of meeting the contract we make with the reader through every word, sentence and paragraph that is written.

I wonder why there aren’t a lot more fiction writers out there that love sports. Writing sports comports so well to what fiction authors do that it really isn’t that big of a leap to write in either genre. In sports there is built in drama with a clear conflict that is really easy to understand and covering events requires you to be observant and describe events in scenes. Sports reporting also puts you in writing situations that many fiction writers do not have to deal with.

After going to a writers group with a bunch of novelist, I found it amazing that many of my peers had been working on a single story for months and for some years. I wonder how someone could work on something for that long. Often on game nights I have an hour often 30 minutes to produce 1000 words of copy. There is no time to think about what you’re writing. It’s write, rewrite, edit and watch it go to press. This isn’t the business for perfectionists or falling in love with your ideas it’s about writing and writing some more.

Some of my best prose has come out of these frantic moments and often the writing requires  clever language, metaphor and subtle descriptions. Here’s a lede from a gamer I wrote this season and you’ll see that there are literary devices in here and even a bit of dialogue.

The opening round of Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs rested on the wind and a prayer on Thursday night.
Fortunately for the Benicia High School boys soccer team, the ball bounced in its favor on a blustery day at Drolette Stadium as the Panthers tied their game against Cordova 1-1 on a stoppage time goal by senior Dante Arias in the second half. They later won 4-2 on penalty kicks after 20 minutes of scoreless overtime.
“It was more based on luck,” Arias said of the tying goal. “You’re there and it just happens for you sometimes.”
Arias, Jared Thieme, Matt Judd and Zach Coan all converted their penalty shots for Benicia while the Lancers missed two of theirs.
The Panthers earned a second-round match up against Placer in Auburn on Tuesday thanks to the play of goal keeper Kenneth Butts, who didn’t allow a goal except for a penalty shot by the Lancers senior striker Anthony Sanchez in the 53rd minute. He also stopped two shots in penalty kicks to seal the Panthers’ win.
Clarity is the bottom line for any writer whether you are writing fiction, essays or a corporate newsletter and the skills I’ve learned from sports writing has carried over to every writing situation I’ve encountered. it’s about laying out a logical sequence of events for readers, stating things plainly enough to make sure nothing can be misconstrued and most important it teaches you to trust your writerly instincts.
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One thought on “Sports writing and the art of fiction

  1. Hey former editor: pluralize novelists.

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