“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” – Babe Ruth
It wasn’t that I couldn’t hit the ball. I hit just fine in batting practice. The problem game during an actual game when the hitting the ball actually meant something. No one wants to be the player who struck out and cost the team the game. Plus, I knew the coach had marked me as one of the ‘lesser’ players and I desperately wanted to prove her wrong. So I’d step into the batter’s box and focus as hard as I could on not messing up.
The first few pitches would go by unchallenged. “You’ve got to swing if they’re good,” the coach would call out. I’d double down on my focus and swing at the next pitch.
Three summers of these performances. It was painful for all involved.
Writing, for me, is a lot like hitting a baseball. When I first started writing, it was easy. Rejections fed my self-doubt, but not so much that I doubted my talent. I kept myself afloat by telling myself it wasn’t me, it was the story being rejected. (It helped that I was getting outside validation from contests, etc. to buoy me as well.)
But then, I sold. Suddenly the words I wrote mattered. I had to please my editor, reviewers, readers. And guess what? They weren’t always pleased. Worse though? Sometimes they were very pleased. The accolades and awards were awesome, but each one added a layer of expectation on my shoulders. It’s like being a clutch hitter. Once you hit a walk-off homer to win the game, you expect to hit one every time.
“You can’t think and hit at the same time.” Yogi Berra, NY Yankees
Now when I sit down to write, I bring with me a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed. It’s like game time hitting times ten. You’d think switching to a new genre would diminish, that I’d once again have the blissful ignorance of a newbie, but that’s impossible. You can’t erase experience. If anything, the desire to succeed added more pressure, and made writing even harder. I was overthinking and getting in my own way. Big time.
I was talking about this with a friend yesterday, and he made a very good point. He told me to think about David Ortiz who is going into the Hall of Fame this summer. One of the greatest clutch hitters in the game, Ortiz had a lifetime batting average of .286 (with 541 home runs.) .286 means he got a hit in 30% of his at bats. Seventy percent of the time, he did not. Seventy percent!
My friend’s point was this: even the greatest aren’t perfect all the time. There were plenty of times when Ortiz struck out in the bottom of the ninth too. But he didn’t let that keep him from swinging. The reason Ortiz was such a great clutch hitter was because he never let the pressure of expectations weigh him down. He didn’t worry about the 70% of bad at-bats. He simply stepped into the batter’s box and swung the bat, same as always.
Which brings me back to my own batter’s box nightmare. “Write your book expecting that there will be a percentage of people who will hate it no matter what you do,” my friend said. He’s right. I can kill myself worrying about pleasing them, or I can be more like Big Papi and just swing.
“Swing at all kinds of s**t. Swing, swing, swing and good luck.” David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox