writing & publishing

The Need For Distraction: Sports

File under ‘stuff they don’t teach you about writing when you signed up’.

I’ve gone through a few ups and downs of being published, getting translation deals, or not, good press reviews, stinking Amazon reviews, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you think about writing and the Internet the less good it is for a stable state of mind. But it isn’t easy – the Internet and modern publishing seems to shape you into acting in a certain way. It makes writers competitive with each other (even if most of us won’t admit it) which is futile since we’re all actually on the same side. You can see the jealousy bubbling away if you know where to look. You also start to equate online activity with being proportionate to good sales, but it doesn’t really work like that in 2012 when everyone is clamouring for attention. And if you go down the route of seeking attention all the time, it can really impact upon what you’re here for in the first place: to write. (As an aside, Sam Sykes made a different point about the silence of being a writer, which isn’t directly related to this, but it’s also a good read.)

Anyway, for a while the whole thing was causing a bit of mental anguish. Concentrating on the correct parts of the writing process was replaced by focussing on the peripherals. I wanted to change that, and tried a few things.

But one of the biggest things that really has helped me out is sports. When I was younger, I used to be into plenty of sports, but in my 20s I pretty much got jaded with the British sports industry and drifted away. But, over the past few months I’ve utterly thrown myself – and I mean ridiculously so – into following a certain sport: American Football. I sort of followed it when I was younger, but not really – because being British, for years we got rubbish coverage. You’d find out about results way too late. Games were on at ridiculous hours. But it’s not the same anymore – there is so much more for international fans.

I won’t bore you with details, but having distractions, becoming emotionally invested in a team, statistics, tactics, the drama and so on, has remarkable impacts on my state of mind for writing. Over the months, it’s helped create conditions in which I can really concentrate on writing again and not all the external worries. Emotional ups and downs are invested in something else entirely, which means that the writing ups and downs seem less important. When I sit down to write now, I’m not concerned about what so-and-so said about this or that, or how my online sales rank is doing.

Buddhists among us would point out that thinking of others really is the path to peace, so thinking about sports teams is a no-brainer. I guess ultimately it’s all about not taking your writerly self as seriously as you think you should. So long as I’m writing books, that’s fine with me – that’s the serious stuff. The rest is all a game.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

4 replies on “The Need For Distraction: Sports”

I’ve always enjoyed working – writing and editing – to American football. I liken it to cricket in that it’s possible to follow along with it the background, without missing anything really significant, but without having to give your whole attention over to it. It fits with the occasional breaks most of us like to take during a long slog – not even the longer ten or fifteen minute breaks where we might make a cup of tea or something – just those thirty seconds or so every three or four minutes when you want to look at something else. I probably don’t see it as bigger distraction in quite the same way, but I do think that point is generally true of sport, and why I revere it – you can invest any amount of otherwise destructive emotion in it you want (well, almost – there are, of course, genuine excesses in some quarters) but everyone knows it’s still just a game. It’s a much better lesson than the things we’re generally told to take seriously, like wars and religion.

Yeah, the stop-start nature is ideal for looking up after three or four minutes. Like you, I tend to prefer short bursts and then a quick distraction.

I found that getting too far invested into a political situation actually made me worse – because it’s so real. Not that I don’t take them seriously now, but the distance compared to my previous emotional investment seems healthy.

I’m always amazed by people like Naomi Klein who can seem so jolly as they get into heated debates.

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