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.