My 10 year old son knows a lot about football.
He knows the most obscure penalty calls. He knows who the third string quarterback is for the Raiders, what college he went to and why he’d probably be taken by Miami next year. He knows who won every Super Bowl, who coached the winning teams and crazy stats like how many championship victories were earned by teams who came from behind. Along with every Patriots fan in New England, he wants to tell Coach Bellichik exactly what went wrong in last week’s game. My son doesn’t restrict his knowledge to the Patriots; he knows about the Broncos, the Jets (oh! How we hate the Jets!) the Giants (hate the Giants too!) and other threats in the season. If he were myopic about the world of football he would miss out on a lot of great games. (Don’t even get me started on how he feels about college ball!)
For all this knowledge, my son can’t put his knowledge into practice very well.
He’s got his Wii football games. He plays pick up ball in the neighborhood. He loves Madden, but he’s just not going to be able to apply his knowledge within the limitations of his life. He doesn’t play in an organized team. He probably won’t see high school play so college play is probably out of the question. And if he has a future in the NFL, it won’t be one with shoulder pads on his body and numbers on his shirt. He is for now, just an armchair sportsman, devoted in his passion, hungry for more knowledge and ravenous for more opportunities.
Like my son, good writers should be just as excited about their game.
If we are reading constantly, then we can get, like my son, a spectator’s view of strategy and drama. We can put in our own opinion of what other writers are doing wrong, learn from them and go back to our literary heroes and know their “stats” too.
We need to know our game inside and out.
How can we be armchair analysts?
Read as obsessively as my son watches. A writer who isn’t in the middle of reading a good book can’t call themselves a writer. Don’t know what to read? Join Goodreads, ask your friends, read some of the books from the writers in our Facebook group, go to your local library, find a local book club.
Pay attention to what we’re reading. Look at structure, character development, word choices and imagery. You absolutely can’t be a good writer if you aren’t a reader. Surround yourself with quality books and examine everything from sentence structure to plot. You will get better by learning from the experts.
Get vocal about the flaws in the books you read. As long as you aren’t mean-spirited, you can explain the trouble spots in your reviews. Don’t want to leave a review? Keep private notes. Every writer makes mistakes, either out of sloppiness or laziness or lack of skill. Point these out, at least to yourself, and think about what you would do differently.
Know the league, not just your team. If you read outside of your genre, the you can still learn much about story, character development and style. Don’t sell yourselves short in learning from great writers because you were too devoted to the home team.
Work in the off season. Guess what my son talked about all spring? THE DRAFT! It’s not football season, but he’s thinking about what’s next! So should you. You don’t have a book out yet, but you should still learn about marketing. There is so much to learn, take advantage of opportunities, like our 10 Minute Novelists weekly chats.
Expect surprises. Bellichik and Brady do the best they can, but nobody really knows what the final score will be. (Let’s try to avoid that disastrous game against Kansas City!) That’s the way with the writing/publishing/marketing world. You give it all you’ve got, but you don’t really know what the result will be.
Expect disappointment. The truth is, the writing world is saturated with wannabe novelists and instant ebooks. Tapping into this market and being successful is about as hard as a 10 year old trying to be Brady’s wide receiver in 2024. Keep going. Your dream is worth it.
When we are armchair analysts, we think about the game more completely.
Because my son saturates himself with all things football, he can apply it to his game when the opportunity arises. When I saturate myself with good writing and think critically about what I’m reading, then I’m a better writer too.