Embracing the Play of Writing — by Pat Bertram

I watched Talent for the Game the other day, and one of the points made in the movie was that baseball is big business. It seemed ironic to me that in our world play becomes business, and business, such as the business of writing, becomes play. (Most writers nowadays write for the love of writing, with always the dream of making a living at it as a goal, a dream that is slowly beinbaseballg eroded by the sheer masses of books, especially ebooks, on the market, so for most writers, the business has become play.)

Then it dawned on me that maybe writing, like baseball, has always been about play. Sure, both fields have their mega stars who make most of the money, but still, there are sandlot games and town leagues (mostly those leagues are softball, but let’s not let technicalities get in the way of a great analogy). Generally, anyone who wants to play baseball or softball can, but not everyone manages to turn the fun into profit. Writing is much the same. Anyone who wants to play can, but only a very small percentage ever makes a living at it.

I know people who won’t watch professional sports because they say the pros play for money and not for fun, that the players don’t seem to enjoy themselves, which takes the joy out of the game. In the same way, some of the major authors, the ones who are best at the business of writing, write the worst books. Obviously, most people don’t agree with me since they snatch the books up as soon as a new one comes on the market, but for me, after more than two or three books in a series, the authors lose their sense of play, and the books lose their luster.

Like baseball, writing is an inherently frivolous pursuit, made important only because of our frivolous lives. Okay, maybe our lives aren’t frivolous, but most of us don’t spend our days out in the wilderness gathering nuts and berries, hunting for meat to put on the table, chopping wood to keep warm, finding cover when it snows or rains. Writing in itself can’t do any of that, but wouldn’t it be nice if it could? I’d write a feast for us all, where we could come together and enjoy good food and good company at only the cost of a few words.

And no, I’m not advocating we junk civilization and go back to primitive times. I’m not much for the outdoors (except for walking) and frankly, I prefer indoor plumbing. But you have to admit, no matter how you look at it, writing is not a serious activity. It’s about making believe. Playing dolls and building worlds. We use words instead of toys, but basically, it’s the same thing.

Maybe we’ve been looking at writers all wrong. Maybe instead of celebrating the folk who embrace the business of writing, we should be celebrating those who embrace the play of it.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”


Filed under musings, Pat Bertram, writing

8 responses to “Embracing the Play of Writing — by Pat Bertram

  1. An interesting way of looking at writing, Pat.

    I know that early in my literary career, I spent far too much time worrying over publication, or the business aspect of writing. As a result, procrastination became a part of my toolbox. When I learned to simply enjoy the process, and the pleasure that comes from creating, I became a writer. As I’ve written before, perhaps not surprisingly, publication soon followed.

    I’ve dreamed of being able to one day quit my day job and write full time; but then it hit me: If I had to depend on my writing for my livelihood, for the food on my table and the roof over my head, would some of the joy go out of it? Would I have to become a sort of mercenary, writing for an audience, with bottom line my only concern?

    So, I content myself with writing what I’m moved to write, hoping my audience will one day find me, and that I can make enough money to supplement my retirement.

  2. I agree that it’s a very interesting — and helpful — way of looking at it. It’s true not just of baseball and writing, but a lot of other pursuits, like making music, teaching children, growing vegetables, and a whole lot more. Once it’s not about the joy but about the product, it’s a whole different….. ballgame. Fear of failure taints the whole thing. I guess that’s what they mean when they advise us to dance as if no one is watching, love as if you’ve never been hurt, and (I can’t remember what the third one is).

    • I looked up the quote:

      Dance as if no one were watching,
      Love as if you’ve never been hurt,
      Sing as if no one can hear you,
      Live as if it’s heaven on earth.

      Good reminders!

  3. dellanioakes

    I agree with you about the big names not always having the best books. Some of the best books I’ve ever read were from individuals or small publishers. They will probably never be famous, sadly.

  4. Wow, is it really possible to write for money? What a concept. Maybe one day. Great analogy.

  5. I think the various book series that people follow and enjoy are for the same or similar reasons people follow their favorite ball teams. They have their favorite characters (players). They can’t wait to see what they’ll do in the next book (game) and how they’ll react to what’s thrown at them, whether it is danger or a fast ball.

    People mourn when a book series ends the way they do if their favorite team moves to a different state. I’ve read several series where the 4th or 5th book is as good or better than the 1st. Some writers are mystery authors today because of Nancy Drew. Other series do seem to lost their heart after a number of books.

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