Some sports are played against the clock. Their time-centered rules vary greatly, but they include judicious use of the time available. Basketball rushes through its quarters with shot clocks to keep things hectic. If you want to pause and plan, you call a time-out, hoping to save one for any last second, secret club preparations for buzzer miracles. Football stops the clock for every play. Even competitive chess has cumulative time limits.

It could be that life is like that, racing against a pre-assigned death date to get all of life in, until ready or not, your buzzer sounds. But I like to think that life is more like baseball. It can go on all night if necessary. You have nine innings in which to alternate your roles and get the whole job done. You have at least three tries per player, and succeeding about a third of the time makes you a star. You can steal ahead and/or slide in at the last second, and it all counts. Ties do get broken, and only by one run, not a whole new time period. It all seems designed to give you every possible chance, like a benevolent God.

The catch is that, naturally, your opponent enjoys the same favor. And here’s another way baseball is like life. You need that opposition. The better your opponent, the better you become. You can’t hit a home run if that pitcher walks you. And if you strike out, there’s more respect if you strike out swinging, not merely looking.

As a writer, sometimes you’re on the clock. (Blog challenges.) School is like that: timed essays, calendared classes. The pressure’s intense, especially for perfectionists. As an undergraduate, I took two creative writing seminars. The playwright/Russian professor didn’t know what to do with me because I’d write a beautiful page and get stuck. (Blogging had not been invented.) Because I never finished anything, he gave me a C.

In my second creative writing seminar, poet/English professor didn’t know what to do with me because I’d write a beautiful page and get stuck. (Blogging still hadn’t been invented.) Because I never finished anything, he said, “Well, I don’t know any publishing writers who finish anything in four months either.” He gave me an A-.

Journalists keep writing to length and to deadline–in public. That’s the basketball of writing. There are novelists who write one book per lifetime: chess?

It helps to have some clock, some external deadline, to keep us in motion, and it’s nice to have flexible projects where you can take an inning here and there.

When I edit, I get to be the catcher signaling pitches, pounding “Put her there,” pulling a wild pitch into the strike zone. For me, journaling is my batting practice, and blogging is like a pre-season game, still practice, only public.

(Remind me to tell you why I like cross-country.)

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011, All Rights Reserved.