Writers and hockey players

Wednesday 5/20/20

Here is a new way to think about something. Let us call it a twist. There is nothing harder in the world than writing. To write artfully. It is hard enough to even write cogently. To simply be clear so that others will understand what they have read. When one is being very basic. Writing is in part the greatest of the arts--potentially--because it combines the most disciplines and has a limitless amount of variables. There are infinite possibilities, always. Playing a sport is far easier. There are not infinite possibilities. There are limits, set numbers of pieces with which one works.

Let's take the example of hockey. Most people who will have any success in the sport will begin playing at the age of three. They will play year round. They will compete, hard and openly, against peers. They will think hockey, watch hockey, practice hockey, compete at hockey, constantly. Very few of these people will ever make it to the NHL as even a fourth line player for a total of three games. Very few will make the AHL. Very few will make DI at the college level. Very few will make Division III at the college level. Very few will reach juniors.

Now let's take writing. Some writers, at the most, will read as kids. They may try their hand at stories or poems. This will not be the center of their life, this writing. The number of hours they invest in getting better at it will not be a sliver of the hours the hockey player who will never make a Division III squad invests. That person who is going to be the writer, the star of the publishing system, is going to come from money, probably. They will get to their college, in large part because of the money they came from, and they will dabble in writing. They will be given plaudits, which come easily. Not a lot of work, not a lot of ability, not a lot of ability honed, and there is validation. One enters college at eighteen. One can enter the NHL at eighteen. Imagine if you were a hockey player who very occasionally dabbled in a game of pond hockey, who then gets to eighteen, and has pro scouts coming around. When you can barely stand up on your skates.

The writer goes to grad school for the MFA, and they still don't work that hard at writing, which is harder than a sport, and out they come from grad school, and they go into The New Yorker, what have you. How good could they possibly be? What is their attained skill level compared to the hockey player who put in thousands and thousands of more effort over two decades? They are far worse at what they do, as writers, than that player who cannot make the Division III squad. They are not even close to that level of honed skill. You then end up with a publishing system where the people you are told are the Sidney Crosbys, the Alex Ovechkins, are ankle-benders who could not compete against kids in a game of pond hockey.

What then changes is the entire notion of what is good within the publishing system. Everything becomes inverted. If writers A, B, C are good, because they do work that looks like X, then writer G is bad who does work that looks like Y, when no one else had the skill level to do work like Y, in reality. The training processes of the system become geared towards producing work like X, which is very easy to produce. Given that it's so easy to produce, and anyone from the right background, in this system, can be taught to produce it, and be taught to identity it--so, be taught to both create it, seek it out, publish it, award it, celebrate it--means that new ways must be employed to make the stars of the system. That is when it becomes all about identity politics, connection, nepotism, cronyism, family pedigree (look at the Gessens), and writing in a way that is utterly meaningless to the world at large and completely kills off reading as an activity that anyone would invest any time and energy in. And so forth.