What Football and Marriage Taught Me About Writing

Jets QB Mark Sanchez, photo courtesy of FoxSports.com.

Recently, I had a chance to scarf up a couple of pretty decent tickets to an NFL game. (American football, yes, I know, stop laughing, you silly round-ball kickers.) The New York Jets were playing the New England Patriots. I am a casual watcher of both teams, mainly when they’re winning, but my husband has been a die-hard Jets fan for most of his life.

Granted, the game was on Thanksgiving and I’d already made plans with my family, but as my office mate took a pass on the opportunity then subsequently offered it to me, this stream of thoughts flowed through my head:

1. It would be SO COOL to surprise Husband with those tickets and bank all those valuable spouse-points.

2. But he would hate every minute of it. So, never mind. And besides, we’re going to my brother’s house. I already bought ten pounds of sweet potatoes.

Twenty-some years ago, however, I would not have reached Conclusion #2. I would have nabbed those puppies, he might have grudgingly gone to the game, but he’d be miserable the whole way there and back.

Now that I’m familiar with this man, I know he’d rather chew ground glass than drive two hours to New Jersey in Thanksgiving traffic to sit in the cold, watch his team lose (mostly on the jumbo TV monitors, as you miss most of the action unless you’ve got stellar seats), and then drive home.

But how did I know his team would lose? Because during that twenty-some years, I’ve also learned a lot about football. Enough to know that his beloved team is having a horrendous season and any one of the Jets’ cheerleaders would do a better job at quarterback than either of their mediocre QBs, one of whom, an expensive and ridiculous acquisition, is now out for the season with an injury.

And right now you’re asking me what the heck this has to do with writing.

It’s about experience. More than that, it’s about trusting your experience.

Now, I’m a professional-type writer, for money and everything. Not much money, but it keeps the lights on, most of the time. And we professional-type writers write. Day, night, tired, sick, hung-over, the cat’s vomiting on our shoes…we write. We make our deadlines. We try like mad not to disappoint our clients.

BUT, in those also-twenty-something years I’ve been a writer, I’ve learned a bit about me and how I operate. I know that I need complete silence to write. I know that I catch more errors when I read my work aloud. (Thank you, M. Edward McNally.) I also know that I’m much less adroit at sentence crafting after about nine-thirty at night. Heck, I can’t even get a complete sentence out of my mouth. If something isn’t working, it’s probably because I have no business making words at that hour. I close the file, and in the morning, the paragraph that I’d labored over the previous evening is reordered and polished in about sixty seconds. Thereby saving myself the aggravation and my client the time and money.

And this is a lesson that, at least for me, had to be learned through experience: experience with writing and failing and trying again and eventually learning to trust my instincts and abilities. While powering through a problem might work for some writers, and I know many who thrive on this, it usually produces diminishing results for me.

A big part of growing and developing as a writer is to learn what YOU need. A book or a website like Indies Unlimited might teach you some nifty tricks about writing: how to improve your sentences, craft a tighter plot, flesh out a cardboard character, stop hamstringing yourself with one-size-doesn’t-fit-all rules. It could inspire you to try new things. Which is great. Beta readers and editors can go deeper, pointing out personal quirks that might be getting between you and your reader, identifying where and how you can improve your chops and your story. But only through the experience of the writing process, in my opinion, anyway, can you really start putting it all together.

Oh, and speaking of putting it all together, I did bank those spouse-points. As we watched the recorded game after dinner in the relative comfort of our living room, zooming past the commercials, Husband turned to me and said, “Thank you for not making sit through this massacre in person.” Now if we can only find a decent quarterback.

So, what have you learned about yourself through the writing process?

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

12 thoughts on “What Football and Marriage Taught Me About Writing”

  1. Great post, Laurie! The main thing I’ve learned is to trust the story. Or, more to the point, my subconscious. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stuck on something in a manuscript and if I just let it simmer somewhere in the back of my mind, voila! the way forward becomes clear. (And, it usually surprises the heck out of me 🙂 )

  2. Great post, Laurie. I’ve learned that I can write 50,000 words in a month (thanks, NaNoWriMo!). I’ve also learned that, for me, the way out of a writing thicket sometimes involves putting the WIP away and making a mini-outline of where things need to go from here. And like you, I need silence when I write fiction — which is a far cry from my newshound days, when I could write anywhere, including at the scene of a three-alarm fire. 😀

    1. Thanks, great tip, and congrats on the NaNo, Lynne! Funny, just yesterday, I felt muzzy about where a story was going, and stopped to do a mini-outline. It really helped me focus.

  3. Yeah, I too need silence when I write. And when I copyedit. And when I read. I’m a pretty big fan of silence in general.

    One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m more of a nighttime writer. I sort of need a day’s worth of unspoken thoughts and impressions before I feel that I have anything interesting to put on the page.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Dan. I really wish I could write at night. Often that’s when ideas and solutions hit me, and I’m too brain dead to do anything but make a few notes for the next day.

  4. LOL, you had me at cat barfing on your shoes- yes, a very real happening in my house. Dog barfing, cats barfing, pig running amok and peeing on the floor. Sometimes my writing takes backseat to animal wrangling. But once the pig is back in his “room” and the dogs and cats are flaked out, I get that precious time in between loads of laundry and mucking out horse stalls. I am a morning writer, anything after 9 pm is guaranteed to be trash and rewritten the next morning.

    And the silence thing- yeah, I live in the country, so city noise isn’t an issue. But once in a while I need to have some tunes–especially when I’ve been editing way too long and am falling asleep.

    Yup, I understand your life. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Kathy! 🙂 I used to be better about tuning stuff out. Once I didn’t even hear the smoke alarm that was going off because I’d put up a pot of rice and forgotten about it. Now, someone walks by my room and I flinch. Earplugs are my friends.

  5. You have a wicked way with words Ms Boris! I laughed my way through this post, but your serious points came through loud and clear.

    Something I’ve discovered just recently, is that I work best, and most efficiently, when I write only the scenes I can see very clearly in my head.Once I’ve got them down I stop writing, or move on to another clear scene. At some point I have to connect the dots and string those bright beads into a necklace, but usually by then I can ‘see’ how those beads need to be connected… and which ones can or should be thrown away.

    For me, at least, this way of writing works because I’m not wasting time fudging the connections between scenes just to have a neat linear progression. Those fudges can cause a lot of problems, and a lot of re-writes later on because they often connect scenes that really shouldn’t be connected. So for me, knowing when to stop has become a powerful tool in making me a more efficient writer.

  6. p.s. If the fudging issue rings a bell with anyone else, I strongly recommend getting either StoryBox or Scrivener because both of these writing tools make it easy to a) write in scenes and b) rearrange those scenes with just a few clicks. No tedious cutting and pasting, or losing track of what should go where.

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