Lessons from losing…and rejection: or Baseball as writing

The baseball team suffered its second loss last night, but this one seemed to hurt the boys more than the first one; I spotted a few tears in my post-game pep talk. While there are a lot of reasons I think it meant more to them, what lessons do we take from losing…and, isn’t it really similar to the lessons we as writers hope to take from rejections?

So, why did this game—our 7th game—mean more to the boys than the other loss, which was our 2nd game? There are a couple of reasons: First, they’ve grown accustomed to winning. Winning feels good. It’s an affirmation that all things are well, that the hours of practice are paying off, especially in the game. Winning garners pats-on-the-back and attaboys for the players. To not win doesn’t feel good. Secondly, the boys have progressed enough in their skills and in the knowledge of the game to realize that their mistakes (collectively, not individually. I reminded them they win as a team and lose as a team) cost them the game. Yes, they made several more mistakes this game than previously. Now, these are 7 and 8 year old boys, so we expect them to make mistakes—most of those mental. Having a ball roll between the legs of a player that usually catches it is an error that the entire team recognizes. Just like doing well during a rally can be contagious, so can making errors in a game. That’s one of the things coaches work hard to stave off: don’t let one error become ten!

Couldn’t all of this be said about writing as well? We like acceptance and publication (big and small) because it is an affirmation of things we’re doing well. To win an award, to sell a story, to win a writing/story contest are all affirmations to us as a writer that our writing is desirable, that the hours upon hours we spend researching, reading and writing are paying off. To not win or sell doesn’t feel good. And while we’ve all heard that rejections don’t stop once a writer is published, what we don’t hear is if they are easier or harder. In fact, they’re harder. Like a loss in baseball after winning, a rejection after successful writing brings about the reality that causes the writer to realize the mistakes made in the proposed piece (and thus kick themselves for making those sorts of mistakes because they know better). And, like winning in baseball, selling stories (or winning awards, whatever) feels good and repeated sales bring continual good feelings…so much so that the rejection seems to hurt more.

As writers, I think we’re all better off if we take the advice I gave to my players last night: Hey, you win some, you lose some. The goal is to win more than you lose, but either way we want to learn something and improve. Yes, we want to learn through victory and defeat so that our improvement brings about increased chances to win the next time; keeping in mind that the other guy is going through the same process.

Plus, everyone loves an ice cream cone after a victory!

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