On Writing, and Waiting For Our Pitch
November 18, 2019 § 4 Comments
By Lainy Carslaw
In the writing world, they tell you to send your work out constantly. Rejection letters are a sign of progress, a badge of honor. They tell you not to take these letters personally and that rejection is no indication of your lack of talent or ability. They tell you to brush rejections off and keep going. (They always say keep going.)
What I am curious about is if any writer actually believes this? Is there any writer who is not bothered by being turned away again, and again, and again.
Well, I do know of one…
In his book, On Writing, Steven King talks about how he posted his rejection letters next to his bed and just kept writing like it was no big thing. He is probably the most successful writer of our time, especially in terms of the sheer output, so maybe there’s something to be said for that. But Steven King also strikes me as that guy—you know, the ones with confidence to spare and inflated egos so thick no one’s criticism, critique, or rejection could pop them.
Most writers are not that guy (except maybe James Patterson or Dan Brown) but that’s just a hunch. Most of the writers I know spend a lot of mental energy questioning themselves, their ideas, and their words. They spend a lot of time apologizing.
I also know myself and the way I handle rejection—which usually involves tears and wine—lots and lots of wine. Rejection stresses me out. It adds one more crack to my already fragile ego that might may be one rejection away from shattering completely.
I mean, isn’t doing what we love supposed to be fun? Sometimes I think that I just need to take a break? Other times when I’m feeling more depressed, I tell myself the one thing that I never should—that I should just quit?
I was thinking about all of this while at my eleven-year-old son’s baseball tournament, sitting on the hood of my Jeep, watching beyond the outfield fence. I was relieved that I couldn’t see the scoreboard.
After the game, I found out that our team was the last seed and doomed to play the same dominant team again the next morning. I cringed. Wasn’t one whopping enough?
But here’s one thing I’ve learned about baseball: every game is a new game dependent on a whole host of different variables—the weather, the pitcher, the momentum…It’s anyone’s game. Literally. This is the beauty of baseball—opportunity, possibility. Anything can happen.
Even in the MLB the best players strike out. In fact, they strike out a lot. A great batting average is somewhere around a .300, which is basically 30%, well below a failing percentage…and that’s only the best players. More average players are performing at about a 20 or 25% rate.
Can you imagine?! That’s so much failing!
These poor players are going up to bat knowing that failure is pretty much imminent. They know the odds aren’t in their favor but they drag their feet up to bat time and time again because they also know those odds don’t lie and the more they are up to bat, the more likely it is they’ll end up on base. Maybe they’ll get walked. Or maybe they’ll get lucky and just get hit by a pitch.
After a long slump, who even cares at that point? Their expectations are sunk, their mental energy expended—they’re not looking for joy here. They just want some relief, maybe a shift in momentum.
My fifteen-year-old son also plays baseball, so I’ve seen firsthand that the game only gets harder as you get older. The pitching gets faster, the players get bigger, the odds get even lower. All that failure starts to take its toll. Most of the smarter boys in my son’s cohort had run through the escape door that led to lacrosse or soccer a long time ago. But not my poor teenager, who went an excruciatingly long eight games without a hit this season. The defeat I saw in his face was hard to look at. Jesus, I wanted to say, stop the agony and just quit already! Of course, I didn’t say that because that would be bad parenting.
Instead, in baseball, like writing, if we keep swinging, we’re bound to get a hit. Even if it’s thanks to an error by the short-stop, even if it’s an acceptance to that obscure online magazine no one has ever heard of.
I could drag this metaphor on forever but here’s my favorite part: the word used to describe what a writer gives to an agent in hopes of generating interest in their book is the same verb used to describe how the ball is delivered to the batter. What the batter will do to that ball is what makes the game exciting.
Look, every player up to bat knows their chances aren’t great but what’s important is that they still believe that the homerun is possible. And technically it is, given the right circumstances, if everything comes together at just the right moment. Pen to paper, bat to ball, magic can be created.
If we practice and get stronger and continue to study the game, our chances will only increase. One day we’ll hit that thing out of the park—we know we can.
We just have to wait for our pitch.
Lainy Carslaw is an essayist, fiction writer, and gymnastics coach who lives in the North Hills of Pittsburgh with her husband and three sons. She holds an MFA from Chatham University and a poetry degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Her work can be found in The Nasty Woman, Bad Hombre Anthology, several editions of The Madwomen in the Attic Anthology, Technique Magazine, Brevity’s Blog, Pink Pangea’s travel writing website, and her local newspaper, The Hampton News. Her collection of inspirational essays, Unexpected Light, was self-published in June 2019 and can be purchased at livebravewritebrave.com. Currently, she is working on a novel and a second collection of essays about Family Business.