Bringing Back the Swagger

“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” -Yogi Berra

Football season is almost upon us, and I am fondly watching my own Oakland Raiders getting into training camp and getting ready for their first official game in September. This, I hope, will be the year that Oakland returns to the playoffs after too many years stuck in losing seasons.

It takes a lot of physical talent to play any sport, but as the quote above tells us, most of the challenge is mental. I find the same thing in writing. In fact, I wrote a book in 2010 entitled Write Thinking: Psychology for the Productive Writer. The premise was the belief that once you learn the basics of how to write a story, the rest of being a successful writer is simply mind games. You end up doing mental gymnastics every time you open up your keyboard and begin to write. Am I good enough? Is this a waste of my time? Are they going to laugh at me? Or worse yet: are they going to ignore me?

"What is there to fear in the cave? Only what you take in with you."
“What is there to fear in the cave? Only what you take in with you.”

Every year sports reporters talk about when a team that’s been struggling recaptures their “swagger,” that obvious confidence they take with them onto the field and into their opponent’s stadium. It’s no matter of whether they will win, but simply a matter of by how many points.

You stop asking Can I write this? because you know you can. You don’t ask Am I good enough? because time and time again you’ve proved to yourself and to others you are.

In my office at the university, I have one wall that features a framed copy of my PhD. On another wall behind my desk are framed copies of a dozen book covers that I have published. I have those there for two reasons. One, because I want students to see them and know that I have the credibility they can believe what I am telling them in the classroom. Two, they are there for my benefit. Because no matter how many achievements we have, we all still have self doubts.

The current writing project I’m working on has added to my doubts. Real life has kept me from focusing on writing for almost a year. And when I got back to writing in the summer, there were still distracting commitments. On top of that, the project was so different and so complex that I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it. Time and time again I tried to get started on it, only to fall back, frustrated. At one point, I wondered seriously if my freelance writing career was over with.

But I kept at it. How do we eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And I kept writing one scene at a time, not necessarily in linear order, but as they presented themselves to me.

Finally, with preschool meetings looming and classes just around the corner, I determined to take a day and just focus on trying to get as much written as possible. And then it happened. The story began to click into place. The separate storylines suddenly made sense together. The characters began to take on a life of their own. And most importantly, I began to see where the story was going, and what was going to happen next.

When that happened, I knew that I could do it. I went back and read the first chapter. And as the Good Book says, “it was good.” My confidence returned. I had my swagger. No longer would the bear eat me, as my Daddy used to say, but I would eat the bear.

I will tame this beast, and I will call him mine.