Hardly the three "R's" we heard about as children. Then again, the three "r's" were actually "RAW" and not three of anything other than a similarity of sound, I suppose.
But what does the title have to do with this post? I watched the NFL draft tonight. A little less than three years ago, I was in the media room after the Oregon Ducks destroyed an Arkansas State football team which would go on to a pretty decent season. A little known quarterback (outside of Eugene) leapt onto the national stage with a brilliant opening performance that would foreshadow a brilliant career culminating with his Heisman Trophy win this past season.
As I watched him be selected second overall, it occurred to me that just five years ago, entering his senior season of high school, he had never started a varsity football game. He was a backup as a junior who showed so much talent at camps that he began to get some notice despite his lack of experience. Hard work, dedication and humility has carried him to stature which, in some circles, have him called "Saint Marcus" because he is absolutely the most genuine and humble person you could ever hope to meet. That first night, walking out of the interview room, I watched as Mariota walked away with a staffer from the Athletic Department. I knew I had seen the beginning of something special right then. There was just something about that moment. It was like a real life version of the Mean Joe Green Coca-Cola commercial from the 70's - it was that kind of moment.
It occurs to me as I think back on that moment and where a little known kid from Hawaii has found himself after many years of hard work. And then I thought about writing. Oftentimes, you will have heard me refer to writing as an art and that art is something that is either in a person or it is not. And while there is still a lot of truth to this thought, it is not entirely about a gift.
Work. Writing is work - and a writer can improve the more he or she practices the craft. It is why I like continuing the sports-writing work. As a novelist, I have a lot to say. I like adjectives, I like adverbs, and I like a bit of pontification. When I write about sports, guess what, I do not have the readers attention for more than maybe 1500 words; after that, they won't continue reading. Brevity is incredibly important when covering a game. Each side of my writing soul makes me better at the other.
Which takes me to the final point in my title - reading. I have seen many people say that they do not read anything when they are in the middle of a project - that doing so has the possibility of the author being read bleeding into the work. The problem with this is that, guess what, anything you have read in the past influences how you write. Sometimes it is in a positive manner and others it is a negative manner (you know, 'no way I want to write like that hack!'). Either way, reading influences your writing. Unless, of course, you are a literary savant who has never read a book, yet put out words that make Hemingway, Faulkner and Steinbeck weep from their graves.
Reading sharpens the tools. I think it is important to read. I also think it is important to challenge yourself with a book that is not anything like what you are writing. It is for that reason that when I get to work on my football novel, I will be sure to NOT be reading 'The Art of Fielding' at the same time.
At the end of the day, I enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing. And, if the style of what I am reading influences my writing, then good! I hope that I am aspiring to be something more than what I was yesterday. If I am reading something that interests me, and that influences my work, then I can only hope that my writing will then influence someone else.
Hard work and dedication, if they can help in football, I have to believe that they will be of great value as a writer. So I keep putting in the work. It's like training. I don't just go to the gym and hope that I get stronger; I research, I read, then I put in the work. Writing is different, yet it is the same. Blood, sweat, and tears are the price of the muse.