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 being 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.”