I write for the same reason many of my fellow retired septuagenarians play golf. We have the time to do what we want with our lives. I am passionate about my writing, and serious golfers are passionate about their sport. I am reasonably good at writing but rotten at golf.
It is not that I never tried. I tried and tried. I spent hours on golf courses watching my little white sphere disappear into forests consumed, I am sure, by golf ball-eating witches. Every water hazard was an opportunity for my balls to go for a swim and never return. I read books on golf, hit the driving range with some consistency, and took lessons that probably drove more than one golf instructor to drink.
One evening a dedicated golfer friend and I were talking about the sport. My friend, who infrequently tolerated playing with me, listened while I lamented about the pitiful nature of my game. When I told him of the hours I was putting into practice, he responded that I am only making things worse if I am practicing wrong. Since I did not know how to practice right, that ended my sorry life as a linksman.
Writing and golf both take practice, but I know how to practice writing properly. The blank page is my fairway, the first draft, my chip shot, and my final read through my green. I practice my writing by writing every day of the week, sticking to a rigid standard of editing, and reading the works of other writers. Like most writers, I keep journals without submitting them for publication. They keep my skills sharp. Mark Twain wrote more than 1,000 words a day, seven days a week. Not all of that was for publication.
Golfers do the same thing, practicing on driving ranges, putting greens, and playing a lot of golf. Not all rounds of golf are against an opponent or in a tournament. Many strike out on their own or with a friend and do eighteen holes to keep their skills tuned. Sometimes when on an empty course, they will hit three or four balls from the same spot on the fairway and note what worked best.
Both golfers and writers keep records of their activity. Golfers record their scores, often separating these by the courses from which the scores originated. This is important not only for the handicap but to give the golfer a sense of overall performance.
I keep a spreadsheet record of my submissions and use it to analyze my performance as a freelance writer. From this, I have learned that my nonfiction is more accepted than my fiction, that July is my worse month for finding magazines open to submissions, and that certain magazines do not like anything I send them.
Both golf courses and the periodicals freelance writers submit to have levels. Something called the slope rating expresses the level of difficulty of golf courses. There are some extremely challenging golf courses with slope ratings of 150. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to play on one of those. Golf competence eluded me on courses with slope ratings of 55.
Periodicals are rated too. There are top-tier giants in the literary world, and The New Yorker is in that tier. The odds of even a scratch writer getting published in this magazine are 1 in 40,000 — a writer’s Ocean Course.
By the standards I set for myself, my writing goes well. I am no Ernest Hemmingway, but most folks on the golf course are not Tiger Woods or Jon Rahm. Nevertheless, we both strive to perform our best at something we enjoy doing.
The warm weather is on us now, and many of you link persons will be out enjoying your sport. Hit them long and straight and enjoy the game. As for me, I’ll move my pad of paper, number two pencils, and laptop to the deck in the backyard, select an appropriate beverage and play the game I love.
Steve Bailey grew up in the Panama Canal Zone, was educated in Minnesota, and taught middle school for thirty-two years in Virginia. He can be contacted at vamarcopolo.com.
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