Stick-to-itiveness, or, What I’ve Learned About Writing from LeBron James

I’ve spend an inordinate amount of my writing time recently on sports. While there’s something to be said for seeing your name on the by-line of a published article, it’s not exactly the kind of writing I want to do. It’s not even like I can say it’s paying the bills right now, cause that’s not the case. But one of the things I can say about my burgeoning sports journalism career is this, it’s opened my mind to the application of lessons learned within the realm of sports on my fiction writing career.

And that brings me to LeBron James.

James, recently named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year for 2012, is a basketball megastar. He’s not just any star–he’s the sun to the basketball solar system, all of the other players and teams orbiting around him in awe. And although James is almost 28 years old, he’s been part of the basketball consciousness since his junior year in high school. He first graced the cover of the iconic sports magazine in February of 2002, touted as the “Chosen One”. Although it took him 10 years to do, James finally lived up to the billing by winning his first NBA championship with the Miami Heat in 2012.

His journey was a long one. He faced long odds, incredible competition, and dismal failure. While he eventually beat the odds, and bested the competition, it’s his ability to rise, bruised from the failure, and move beyond with a new understanding that really struck me.

See, LeBron James entered the NBA a phenom. His physical gifts were well beyond even the above-average 18-year old. In high school, to use the cliche, he was a man amongst boys. But even when he faced the men of NBA, he proved to be all-but their equal as well. James skyrocketed to the league’s elite, eventually finding himself playing for the championship in his fourth season. The championship round, however, found him pitted against a team of grizzled veterans from San Antonio. The Spurs dispatched in the upstart phenom without losing a single game, in the process, exposing flaws in James’ game that were previously considered mere weaknesses.

The Spurs forced James to play to his weaknesses, and it laid bare all of the holes in the young star’s game. James’ reaction? To fill the holes. James responded to the tactic by forcing himself to improve those facets of his game that the Spurs exploited, specifically his jump-shooting. James returned to the court and, as the following few seasons progressed, the flaw previously exposed had evolved into a strength. He remade his game to include that which was once considered missing.

Then, when James shocked the basketball solar system with his relocation to Miami, he once again found himself playing for a championship. This time, armed with a more complete game and teammates far superior to those he had previously played with, James sought to achieve his dream–to reach the pinnacle, the apex, of his craft. But he didn’t. James, presented with the ultimate chance to write his legacy, shied from the pen–the paper. Pundits debated ad nauseam as to the reason for James’ failure, but no definitive elucidation could be settled upon.

So James returned to the loneliness of the gym to hone his game–his craft. James added a facet to his game once thought to be the stuff  of big-men.  The result? James finally hoisted the crown of champion in 2012. His journey, once believed to be silver-spooned with talent, was rife with workman problems. James needed to tinker, adjust, add, and grow before he could succeed. More to the point, he needed to fail in order to succeed.

So,what does this have to do with writing? Here you go.

Last week I received another rejection letter from an editor. As I stared at the notice in my inbox, dwelling in the darkness of rejection and failure, I couldn’t help but think of LeBron. If I truly wanted to succeed in this game of writing, I needed to persevere. I needed to tinker. To adjust. To add to the repertoire. And ultimately, to continue trying.

The maddening part of my recent rejection isn’t the fact that I was rejected. That’s part of the game. It was the ambiguous nature of the rejection that hurt. It was a form rejection, and not one I could divine any direction from.

But when I sit to marvel at the basketball sun that is LeBron James, I can find my direction. It’s within me, I just needed to lace up the writing boots and follow his example.

So what did I learn about writing from LeBron James?

  1. Tinker and Adjust
  2. Add to the Repertoire
  3. Keep Trying

Here’s the rejection I received earlier this week, if you’re interested.

David,

Thank you for submitting your story, “In A Snap”, to ***. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish it. To date, we have reviewed many strong stories that we did not take. Either the fit was wrong or we’d just taken tales with a similar theme or any of a half dozen other reasons.

Best success selling this story elsewhere.

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