Writing Like a Baseball Pitcher

Baseball PitcherBaseball season is underway and the other night I found myself thinking about pitching and how similar it is to writing.

I don’t have a huge store of knowledge about pitching, but I’ve heard enough announcers discuss enough guys on the mound to have some idea of what it’s all about. And the things that make up a good pitcher, as I see them now, are vastly different from what I thought was needed when I was younger.

When I was younger I assumed that the faster you could throw the ball the better a pitcher you were. I can remember seeing some pitchers only throwing in the eighties and cringing, thinking that they were laughably slow compared to the monsters who could rip the ball off at a hundred miles-an-hour. Power and speed made for better pitching in my mind. That was how you won.

That’s what writing used to be about for me. I was all about word count and speed and power. I had to see the scene in crazy-vivid textures and colors before I could write it. If my character was eating pasta, I wanted to be able to shove my face into the sauce and know how much garlic the chef had used. I used to churn out thousands of words a day. That was success to me. That was what writing was all about.

But those hundred mile-an-hour pitchers? They don’t last long. Oh, maybe on a good day one of the older pitchers will be throwing up into the nineties, sure. But that isn’t for every pitch. That isn’t their only trick. Because pitching is about control. You have to control the ball, that’s the obvious aspect, and the more control the better. A slow pitch that has a lot of movement on it is just as valuable as a hundred mile-an-hour rocket.

But you also have to control the batter, you have to control the confrontation. A good pitcher knows how to get inside the batter’s head. They know how to set the pace of an at bat so that they can throw pitches that are unexpected and earn their strikes. They have to know what sort of umpire they have, what sort of history they have with the batter, how many pitches the opposing team as a whole has seen. They have to think about the details, all of them. Their arms don’t have the power they once had, but pitchers continue to grow in skill as they age because they start to get their heads into the game, not because they keep their arms in pristine condition.

That’s writing to me now.

It’s no longer about massive word counts or scenes that scream at me. It’s about the deliberate use of words. It’s about thinking through a scene in terms of where it falls in the book and what sort of impact it’s surroundings will have on it. Writing is about painting a character a certain way on page one so that a reveal on page one hundred will have the most effect. It’s about sifting through hundreds of thesaurus entries for the perfectly nuanced word.  It’s about striving for precise control over the words on the page, all of them.

Oh sure, there are days when a pitcher will have their head in the game and their arm feels like it did back in their twenties.

And there are days when I’m churning out words like crazy and picking and choosing deliberately with each one.

But there are far more days of research to find a detail I didn’t even know I was missing, or journaling and pondering to figure out an intricate plot sequence, or rehashing a sentence over and over again to get it just right.

And in the end the huge days and the flat days all merge together into a larger whole. No one day stands by itself and it all evens to the level of skill I’m willing to put in for the long run.

It may feel good to throw a hundred mile-an-hour pitch and blow a strike past an astounded batter.

But I’d rather string together six or seven masterful innings and chalk up the win.