Football and Writing

I don’t watch much in the way of sports, especially professional sports, but I did watch the Super Bowl this past weekend, and I couldn’t help but come away with an observation…although most writers and probably many readers will likely cringe at the comparison I’m about to make. As writers, we’re in the same general business as professional sports. Our job is to entertain, and winning entertains far more than losing. In football, the score at the end of the game signifies who wins the game, but the box office receipts at the end of the season also determine who wins… as do the salaries and bonuses paid to players and, less substantially usually, to coaches.

In a sense, every player on an NFL team is a winner. They’re the professionals, and so long as they perform, they can keep playing and getting paid. In writing, the same thing is true. So long as a writer performs, he or she can keep keeping published and paid. And performing means not only writing books, but also writing them in a way that they sell enough that the publisher makes money – just as players have to perform well enough so that the team makes money.

Just as in football, in publishing there are mega-stars, and there are rookies, and journeyman authors. Every year, there’s a new group of writing stars, acclaimed by the writing pundits, and every year some of them sell enough books, and every year some don’t. And just as some football players seem to have all the talents and all the moves, but never quite make it in the big time, the same thing is true in writing fiction. And then there are the authors who never initially impress the literary pundits, just as there are players who never initially impress the football pundits, but who win, by selling hundreds of thousands or millions of books. But in this regard, football and writing differ. A writer can be an excellent writer and sell millions of books and never impress the literary pundits, whereas a football pundit who tries to sell his column by trashing players who perform outstandingly for a long time is likely to run into a substantial backlash. That doesn’t happen to literary pundits.

Another similarity between writing and professional football is that to be successful, a writer has to execute well and avoid mistakes, especially major mistakes, particularly at the end. If a writer blows the ending of a book, just as the Seahawks blew the ending of the Super Bowl, that book isn’t going anywhere… and if a writer does it too often, neither is the writer – just like a quarterback who throws interceptions at a critical time.

All the hype about style goes out the window if either a writer or a football player can’t execute and finish. Of course, style definitely helps, and if those in either profession can execute well, minimize mistakes, and finish on top in terms of their personal performance, that’s what makes them a professional.

And that’s an aspect of writing that’s all too often overlooked.

3 thoughts on “Football and Writing”

  1. Plovdiv says:

    Good points well made. As usual, it come down to being competent in all or most areas of your profession, and to life in general. I recently had an interview with my college careers department, and was told that I had appeared well prepared and had showed a mixture of academic and professional competency. I think that not enough attention is paid to those who are competent and get the job done on a consistent basis, as opposed to those who are more noticeable for their meteoric rise often followed by a precipitous fall. But then again, nowadays, the drama of the latter is more eye catching than competency, which is harder to sensationalise but actually more important.

  2. John Prigent says:

    I always work on the assumption that any book praised by ‘literary experts’ is unlikely to be worth reading.

    1. D Archerd says:

      I’m not sure I agree. What I’ve found about both literary and film critics is that if they universally praise a book/film, it’s probably pretty good (a single positive review means very little unless you are already familiar with that particular critic and know what’s important to them). But a negative review means significantly less, particularly if the review is only tepid. I can’t begin to count the number of films and books with so-so critical reviews that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

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