Fall Back in Love With Writing

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Leroy “Satchel” Paige

On July 9, 1948, the oldest rookie ever to make the big leagues took the mound for the Cleveland Indians. He also happened to be one of the greatest pitchers of all time.

Leroy “Satchel” Paige was forty-two years old. The Indians were in a pennant race that July, and their acquisition helped get them to the World Series. Paige finished the season with a 6-1 record, a 2.48 ERA and 43 strikeouts.

It was a bittersweet achievement. Paige, one of the immortals of the old Negro Leagues (and thus kept out of the Majors by the color barrier) showed the large crowds who came to see him what he was capable of.  Indeed, Joe DiMaggio once hit against Paige in his prime, in an exhibition game, and called Paige the greatest pitcher he ever faced.

After a disappointing 1949 season, the Indians dropped Paige, but he wasn’t through. He came back with the St. Louis Browns in 1951. In 1952 he was so effective he was named to the American League All-Star team.

Amazingly, Paige’s career continued. He bounced around on barnstorming teams and in the minors, still showing occasional flashes of brilliance. At the age of 56 he pitched for a minor league team in the Pacific Coast League. And then, at 59 (that’s five-nine!) on a whim from the colorful promoter Charles O. Finley, Paige came out to pitch in one game for the old Kansas City Athletics, facing the Boston Red Sox.

Satchel Paige faced ten batters that day in 1965, allowing only one hit (a double by Carl Yastrzemski) and getting his last major league strikeout. Astonishing!

Satchel Paige was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1971.

In addition to his pitching prowess, Paige was something of a down-home philosopher. He handed out advice like, “If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.” Now who can argue with that?

Paige never made a lot of money, yet he kept pitching. Why? Simply because he loved baseball.

You’ve got to love what you do to keep on doing it. We had an intriguing discussion some time ago on whether a writer should think about quitting. Our own Kris (P.J. Parrish) said the only valid reason should be that “the whole process of writing has become something of a chore, a duty rather than a delight.”

Every writer feels that way from time to time. Last year (the late, unlamented, atrocious, and altogether train-wreck known as 2020) induced quite a wave of such feelings. I wrote about why that is here.

So we need to fight back with delight. We need to keep in touch with our inner Satchel Paige and keep writing because we love it.

To rekindle that romance:

  1. Remember the good times

“We’ll always have Paris,” Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Think back to the best times you’ve had as a writer. When did you feel the most joy? When did somebody tell you something that made you feel good about your writing? Dwell on that. You can do it again.

  1. Write something you might throw away

Almost always we write with the goal of having readers pitch us some dough and become fans. When you have that in mind, it can sometimes sit there like Poe’s raven, mocking you. The way to chase that bird away is to write something just for you, for fun. I like flash fiction (under 1k words) for this. It doesn’t take long, and if I don’t ever publish it anywhere, no big deal. It frees me up to write just as I wish. And sometimes that turns into the germ of a full-length idea.

  1. Re-read favorite passages

For me, nothing gets me back into the writing mood like re-reading select passages from favorite novels. Like this from Ask the Dust, John Fante’s 1939 novel about a young writer longing for success:

Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town, I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town. A day and another day and the day before, and the library with the big boys in the shelves, old Dreiser, old Mencken, all the boys down there, and I went to see them, Hya Dreiser, Hya Mencken, Hya, hya: there’s a place for me, too, and it begins with B, in the B shelf. Arturo Bandini, make way for Arturo Bandini, his slot for his book, and I sat at the table and just looked at the place where my book would be, right there close to Arnold Bennett, not much that Arnold Bennett, but I’d be there to sort of bolster up the B’s, old Arturo Bandini, one of the boys, until some girl came along, some scent of perfume through the fiction room, some click of high heels to break up the monotony of my fame. Gala day, gala dream!

How’s your (writing) love life these days? What do you do to romance it? 

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25 thoughts on “Fall Back in Love With Writing

  1. I turned in my latest manuscript near the end of December. Waiting for edits, which always puts me in a “what next” frame of mind. I decided to write a short story (which is more challenging than a novel for me) to use as a reader magnet. I’ve found I need to be writing something–decided to take yesterday off while I waited for beta reader feedback on the story–and it wasn’t a happy day. At least when I’m writing, I’m avoiding the news, and as far as I’m concerned, 2021 hasn’t gotten off to a good start.

    • Right on, Terry. Writing virtually anything is the best defense against the onslaught. Bradbury’s great quote: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

  2. It’s very infrequent that I don’t enjoy writing. Where I tend to struggle is all the things associated with that — time to research, etc. After all these years, I still haven’t developed a consistent schedule of writing. However, noxious as 2020 was, I did get about 60k written, though not on preferred projects I wanted to focus on.

    Ah, “focus”. That has been the problem in 2020 & thus far continues to be an issue in 2021. However, I have written every day this year, still not on the project I REALLY want to work on. But it’s therapeutic to write something, anything, so long as I’m writing. Whether it ever sees the light of day or not. For now, that’s good enough.

    • It IS good enough, BK. I write every day, too, but always try to take one day off, a writing “Sabbath,” to rest and recharge. It helps.

      Keep calm and write on.

  3. Oh, my God, Jim, I love your posts that tap into baseball history as a means to motivate us scribes. And it always connects me with my dad, who died too young almost forty years ago and placed a baseball in my hand when I was five. In later years, watching and talking baseball would re-center us in times of conflict, just like talking among my conflicting characters re-centers me now.

    My dad was a stoic man, but he glowed like a Jack-o-Lantern when he described how he’d once seen Satchel Paige pitch. The greatest-of-all-time.

    You allude to Satchel Paige’s quotes, which are a font of vivid first lines. Like, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” Or, “Avoid fried foods that anger up the blood.” The former might apply to a rough, unfinished first draft; the latter to a southern hot head who falls off the grilled fish bandwagon before committing a Chapter One murder.

    • How very cool that your dad got to see Satchel pitch. He was quite the showman. I love it that he named his pitches things like “The Midnight Creeper” and the “Whipsy-Dipsy-Do.”

      My dad was the same way as yours when talking about baseball. When he was a boy he got to see Babe Ruth hit a homerun.

  4. Great post, Jim.

    I’m guessing that many of us, writers and nonwriters, are suffering from 2020 malaise. And it doesn’t help if we live in a colder climate where everything is wintertime dead and brown. My wife and I were driving just yesterday, and I commented on how some new life, something green, would help lift some of the depression.

    In answer to your question–what are you doing to fire up the flame of love for writing–I’ve been taking the wrong approach lately, trying to beat it back into line, giving myself strict orders to put seat in chair…and stay there. I’m not sure it’s working.

    I like your suggestion #2, Write something you might throw away. Creative people get bored easily with the same-same-same. I’ve had some nonfiction projects on the back burner, projects I’m putting off until “I get that series finished.” I wonder if it’s time start on one of those back-burner projects.

    Someone here–Deb?–asked for advice on working on more than one book at a time. Does that allow the creative part of us (that gets bored easily) to find one of our projects that is more interesting for that day – more entrées on the menu? Or does that just spread us too thin and we don’t know what we want to do?

    I like your ideas. I’m going to start working on #3. And, remembering my former life, where I beat back boredom by constantly learning new procedures and techniques, I’m going to make a concerted effort to study new techniques in writing and “play” with those in short stories. Jim, you could teach all of us how to get started in Patreon.

    Ah, I’m ready to put bum in chair and get to work.

    • Thanks, Steve. I have always liked the Asimov idea of having several projects. I think when he was writing a novel that would be his only fiction project. But he had nonfiction going in other typewriters that he could switch over to when you wanted.

      I like to employ a movie studio idea. I have my main project in production, another project that has been greenlit, and a couple of others that are in development. If I take a break from my WIP I can do some developing on the others.

  5. My writing life is filled with passion these days, Jim. So much so that my wife is getting quite concerned about it. It came to a head the other day when I installed two brackets and a cross brace on the inside of my writing room door. Enjoy your day!

    • It’s quite evident that your passion for writing is in the upper levels, Garry. As for your wife, it wouldn’t surprise me if she starts sliding gruel through that door.

  6. Happy New Year, Jim. Your first Sunday post in 2021 struck a chord with me. It has been a struggle to write in the past year. To be fair, it’s been a struggle to write before that. Expectations for my writing tend to drain the fun out of the process.

    I was drafting two books at the same time last month, and found that wasn’t doable for me, right now, and decided to go all in with my library cozy, which I started drafting on November 1st. I’m now closing on the mirror moment at the 40K-ish mark. I’m having fun, but I want to have more fun, and enjoy the process for its own sake. I’m loving the characters, and enjoying spinning humor amidst the mayhem. The key is going to be to let go of expectations on how the work will be received. That’s the fly in my ointment.

    I like your suggestions on how to fall back in love with writing. #2 has a special place in my heart. Flash fiction first made me a published author. It unlocked my creativity. It’s short, quick to write, perfect for a single writing session, and you can experiment.

    My first published story was a flash fiction, “Dead Wife Waiting,” inspired by a prompt that the now bygone 10Flash Quarterly put up–an encounter at a lonely crossroads. Just like that, an idea came to me and I was off and running. I’ve written plenty of flash for the fun of it, and like you said, you never have to share if you don’t want to. I usually do, but YMMV 🙂

    • Right, Dale, the expectations thing is a real buzz kill. We have to make sure we unload them when we write. Not always easy.

      Glad to hear you are enjoying your cozy. Finish that thing.

  7. Excellent post. I found that my enthusiasm was somewhat bipolar. I was *so* excited about some writing ideas, but writing is also hard work, so some of my other projects were *so* challenging when it came down to the nitty gritty of editing, etc. But we keep at it, but this is what we love to do.

  8. Great post, James! The only thing I can say about 2020 is good riddance…but like others here, I think 2021 just might kick us in the butt, too. To quote a famous person, “Ack!”

    I’m doing two things to keep the (writing) romance hot. I now have an email marketing mentor who will help me “learn the ropes” of lead magnets, freebies to offer for subscribers, how to use Mailchimp, etc. She’s a great teacher and I’m enjoying working with her.

    The other is flash fiction and short stories. I wrote one the other day called “Henry Goes Shopping”, a fun piece about a self-sufficient old guy who only goes to town about every six months…to a nearby mom-and-pop to pick up staples. Unfortunately, he chose mid-year 2020 for his trip. He has no phone, TV, or internet. He gets a rude awakening regarding the current state of world affairs when he arrives at the mom-and-pop just in time to see a woman-fight on the floor of an aisle over…well, I’ll leave it to your imagination.

    I’ve found I love that form of story-telling. I think I can thank you, JSB, for that. And I echo the comment from Steve: you could teach all of us how to get started on Patreon… 🙂

    • Happy to hear you’re getting some good, practical coaching, Deb. We all need that from time to time. As long as we keep up the writing. That’s the most important thing, isn’t it?

  9. I love to run. I’m not fast, but I love trudging through the miles on a dirt trail, alone with my thoughts and fashioning new stories in my head. Running has served me well. It’s been an antidote to the foolishness I witness in the world, and it’s been a one-stop-shop for health and a sense of well-being. It’s all good.

    But it’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s downright hard to drag myself out of bed to go out for a run or to jog for miles on the treadmill. But it’s the price I pay to get to those days when going three miles seems easy and full of joy. Running has made me a better person, and it’s taught me something about writing.

    Some days are hard, like slogging through a long run. But on other days, the words catch me up in their power, and I fly along, afraid to stop. I love it when I write a sentence that makes me laugh out loud or one that makes me stop and think. I’ve learned lessons about myself through my writing, and I’m a better person for it. I’m willing to pay the price to get to those days. And there’s an added bonus: I’ve never pulled a hamstring muscle sitting in my chair with my hands on the keyboard.

    I love your suggestions. I’m practically an expert at throwing away words I’ve written, but I’m going to focus on re-reading favorite passages in 2021.

    • You put it perfectly, Kay. Be “willing to pay the price.” Because there is reward when you do.

      Exercise is good for the mood and the brain. I do my Chuck Norris workout on the Total Gym and feel great afterward…only, unlike Chuck, I can’t dribble a bowling ball or break the sound barrier with a roundhouse kick.

  10. Good post, as usual, JSB. And with a great analogy to Paige.

    But for me, it’s not about “Writing.” It’s about “Authoring/Publishing.” Sure, writing is a key element, but that’s not what gets me going. What I love is ripping open the padded envelope and seeing that paperback of mine for the first time. And scanning the Amazon pages with my books that look just as good as any from the Big Boys. And seeing those star ratings that show me that what I’m creating—and that’s what I am: a “creative”—is reaching an audience and affecting them in some way. That’s what I love.

    • Right, Harald, there is a charge in running your own publishing biz and putting books out the moment they’re ready (not having to wait a year or 18 months) and seeing them right up there with the “Big Boys.”

      Affecting readers is best of all. Happy pubbing!

  11. I vow to give myself the weekend off, but by Sunday afternoon I’m itching to get back to it.

    On Dec. 23 I learned that my adult son died from complications after Covid. The only way I could process it or make sense of it was to write. So many wonderful people reached out. But I couldn’t talk. Just write. It’s more than love. It’s essence.

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