I know no one comes to my blog for cogent sports analysis, because, well, they’ll get none. But there is a lesson about writing that I’ve been thinking about. Back in 1988, Michael Jordan was on the scene as a budding superstar, got all the way to the Eastern Conference Semifinals then ran into the buzzsaw known as the Detroit Pistons. Again in 1989 and 1990, the Pistons’ “Bad Boys” had his number, and all Jordan could taste with his wagging tongue was defeat.
Michael Jordan learned through those losses was Derrick Rose is learning now: what it takes to be a champion. He suffered through the pain of loss, the heartache, the frustration. He toughened up, gained experience, and continued to hunger until he could climb that championship mountaintop.
In many ways, failure builds the player. We learn from our mistakes and shortcomings. Just like Michael Jordan had to go through Detroit, Derrick Rose has to go through the Miami Heat. His performance coming up short may require him to develop other aspects of game. The experience of failing to show up will help teach him to never waver on the big stage. The experience of falling short will mold him into a clutch player. And time will allow his team to gel.
“Maybe it’s my fault that you didn’t see that failure gave me strength; that my pain was my motivation. Maybe I led you to believe that basketball was a God-given gift and not something I worked for – every single day of my life.” –Michael Jordan
It always troubles me when I see writers spin out and rail against the literary gods or against the gatekeepers of the industry (real or imagined). How they will refer to networking as “ass kissing” or an acceptance letter as a reward for begging for approval from a publisher. Then they throw their hands in the air, calling the entire publishing business a fool’s errand, and consider going the self-publishing route.
Ironically, they’re oblivious to the fact that they’ve managed to insult both those who’ve gone the traditional route (as lucky and/or ass kissers) and those who went the self-publishing route (as if that doesn’t require more work and a greater skill set).
The fact of the matter is that this is it. This is what you signed up for. A lifestyle of perpetual speed dating: constant rejection/mis-matches hoping for the occasional connection. Part of it may simply be being tired of facing the pain of rejection. Running from the pain and frustration of rejection keeps you from certain opportunities. But there is a lot of control and safety on smaller stages and doing it yourself. You get to maintain your posture of raging against the man and whoever else holding you down. Sometimes I wonder how much of it is a fear of success, the possibility of a big(ger) stage looming where you’d have to put up or shut up.
Don’t get me wrong: we’ve nearly all had that sinking frustration, the dark night of the writer’s soul. Like any dark night, you have to push through it however you can, no matter how messy it might look. This is it. This is the writing/publication path. It is what it is. It doesn’t get any easier. It’s not supposed to be. Nothing truly worth doing is. You stockpile those rejections, double down and do more work, more writing, and muster more perseverance. So I repeat: it doesn’t get any easier. There are only new problems to deal with.
In the meantime, we will wait and see how Derrick Rose comes back next year and what coming up short teaches his game and shapes his character. I’m betting it will continue to shape the heart of a champion.