Friday, March 2, 2012

The Necessary, Interchangeable Writer's Masks

by Mindy McGinnis

I'm a first baseman. My job is the under-appreciated task of stopping the ball. I have to catch the ball whether it's in the dirt, over my head, directly in the runner's path, or barreling towards my face at seventy miles an hour. If I don't the runner gets one base, at least. I've been cleated, elbowed in between the shoulder blades by the less sportsmanlike runners, and on one memorable occasion, line-drived in the boob when I turned my head for a split second in acknowledgement of a particularly nasty jeer from the other team's bench.

I kinda think first basemen are under-appreciated, but I love my position, despite the fact that I'm reminded by everyone when there's a lefty in the box to "get ready," as if I couldn't put that together on my own. Although that one might actually be on me due to the boob incident.

In any case, my freshmen year in high school I wanted a varsity letter. Badly. But there was a very talented girl two years older than me who had a claim staked on first base, deservedly. So the coach, after having noticed my trained-dog response to not allowing balls get past me said, "Hey, I know you're 5'9" but how do you feel about catching?"

I didn't feel so good about it.

Catching meant an extra twenty pounds of equipment. Catching meant crouching for long periods of time and ignoring the pain in my thigh muscles. Catching, in fast-pitch softball, meant something flying at me repeatedly at sixty to seventy miles an hour, and a girl in between me and it who had to whip the stick around fast enough to make contact.

And because I was in high school, catching also meant smashed, sweaty hair and frequent breakouts.

But catching was also going to mean a varsity letter, if I wanted it badly enough. And I did. So I shut my mouth, and I was a catcher. I had to learn new tricks, like flipping the mask off quickly enough to make the long throw to second in case of a steal. And I had to unlearn old habits. At first base I had it ingrained in me to cut the distance between the ball and my glove in order to beat the runner. Reach for it. Stretch. Do the splits if necessary.

Yeah. You can't really do that as a catcher. It's called interference. And if the batter decides to swing at that particular pitch, it's called a broken hand. Trust me on that one.

How does this relate to writing?

I know you hate it, but we're past the days where you are just a writer. We can no longer sit happily in isolated homes with a typewriter and mail off our new ms when it's finished.

You are not just a writer. If you want to succeed you are also a social networker, a forum contributer, a self-marketer, a publicist, a blogger, a Facebooker, a tweeter and uh ... a Pinterest ... er. Or something. You have to wear all those masks, and be ready to flip one off and put the other on at any given moment throughout the day in order to get what you want in the end.

Unlearn the old habit of telling yourself you are a writer, and a writer only. If I had insisted on being a first baseman I would not have earned my varsity letter as a freshman. Arguably, I also wouldn't have broken my hand, but it serves as a reminder that there will be pains along the way as you learn your new roles.

It's not easy, it's not always fun. But it's where we are now as writers. Now take the field.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA librarian and author whose debut, Not a Drop to Drink, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins in Fall 2013. She can be found kicking butt and taking names on both her blog and Twitter.


Shannon Lawrence said...

So true! We need a new catch-all term, other than writer. Writer just doesn't cut it anymore.

Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Pk Hrezo said...

So true.. which makes it a sometimes daunting pursuit. But we have to love it enough to want it. I do put my writing first, however, and if anything suffers during a WIP, it's my social media. The good thing, is that we can always catch up to it later.

Yvonne Osborne said...

But I just wanna write!!

I'm trying. I've even started tweeting, though my photo of preference seems to be too big.

The hardest job in baseball is catching. The hardest job for a writer is self-promotion.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Shannon - That's true. We should have some kind of contest. We're not writers... we're... "Promauthors."

PK - It is a very daunting pursuit to be sure. And yes, it's hard to give all the side tasks the attention required for success, and make sure that the #1 thing (the BOOK) is still getting what it needs.

Yvonne - Agreed. Self-promotion is a tricky, slippery path. Too much, and you're the Fuller brush man and people hide from you.

Christopher Hudson said...

As a baseball fan, I love the analogy ... but here's where it breaks down for me: You had a coach who taught you how to catch ... when it comes to all that social media, I just don't have a clue how it works ... or why, for that matter ... so, here I am, riding the bench, as usual.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Christopher - Here's a free catcher's mask: and there's plenty of coaches over on AQC! Thanks for commenting :)

Matt Sinclair said...

As a high school and college catcher, I loved the analogy. I also appreciated it since I had to learn to play 3B and SS in slowpitch softball these past many years since college. Yes, we writers take on lots of new skills, but I think they're like learning new words or honing our grammatical skills: Necessary parts of the game. We may be catchers, but our equipment hasn't truly been "the tools of ignorance" for quite some time.

Jemi Fraser said...

The rapid advancement of technology has changed a lot of jobs - and the job of writer is certainly in that group! Great analogy. :)

Marcia said...

Excellent post. It would be interesting to see how some of the great "just writers" of the past would have handled their careers today.

Maria S McDonald said...

Not a truer word written. With so many social media available nowadays, we have to put ourselves out there. Who says a writer's job is simply to write your novel and nothing else?

Jean Oram said...

Good point and a nice story to drive your point home. "Go for home! Go for home!" (Sorry. Baseball, ya know.)

If only the luxury of sitting and writing.... ahhh... Maybe if you are "Huge" but I doubt even those writers sit around all day writing.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Matt - yes indeed, I think we have to adjust as human beings to *so* many things in life that writing / marketing / blogging shouldn't be a huge surprise.

Jemi - great point. The publishing industry is a great example of this in more ways than just the e-reader!

Marcia - You know, that's a great question. I would LOVE to see some of Dickens' tweets. He would've rocked it.

Maria - Putting ourselves "out there" is exactly the way to phrase it.

Jean - I doubt they do. In fact, with the advent of so many taking advantage of e-pubbing and releasing their books cheaply or free, I'm sure that even the established are aware of the need to be "out there."