The Mid-Game Slump and the 7th Inning Stretch

I have a love/hate relationship with baseball. Everything surrounding the game is wonderful. The songs and chants, the root-root-rooting for the home team, the smell of dirt and grass, the aluminum foil wrapped hot dogs fresh off the grill, the creak of ball glove leather, and the crack of bats. The game itself though? Meh. Hours of sitting on uncomfortable metal or concrete bleachers, or those hard plastic seats that afford zero leg room to anyone over five feet, while the drunk guy behind you sloshes warm beer all over the place and/or spits his chewing tobacco at his feet, which, thanks to the narrow rows, is right next to your head. Or worse, tips over his dip cup onto you and your belongings (that actually happened to me once and still induces a hard shudder as I picture my grainy, brown, used tobacco stained, reeking purse. I threw it away in case you’re wondering). All while you’re waiting for something, anything, to actually happen during the game.

Playing baseball is completely different. I love it. I played softball for twelve years and considered playing in college. I could play all day long. But watch? No.

The thing about baseball is it starts off so great. The first inning or so is exciting. Energy is up throughout the stadium, people are still (relatively) sober, the food is fresh, the players are ready to go. But toward the third or fourth inning, it slumps. The excitement wanes, the beer flows more freely, the seat starts to hurt your butt and you check your watch repeatedly, like that will speed up time, wondering if it’s acceptable to just go ahead and leave. Then, at the end of the sixth inning, the game picks up again. The seventh inning stretch. Every minor or major league baseball game I’ve ever been to has something special, some tradition they do, for the seventh inning stretch. (They almost always involve everyone singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”). The excitement picks back up. The close of the game is here. It’s the last chance for the teams to come from behind or solidify their win. You’re on your feet, root-root-rooting once more, urging your team forward, to the win!

Writing is a lot like baseball, at least it is for me. The beginning is always wonderful. A great new idea takes hold, like a baby plant, its roots spring out and dance across the top of your mind. You put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and write and the roots dig in a little deeper. You get on a roll, ideas firing left and right, as the characters and the story reveal themselves. Then you hit the third or fourth inning. The mid-game slump. The story slows down, you forget to water the plant and the leaves droop. Sometimes, this is when I want to leave the game. Both teams suck and the story isn’t going anywhere. I question my writing. “I suck. I can’t write. What am I doing?” But, I stay. That far in, I always stay. You slog through. You re-read the scene you thought wasn’t fit to use as toilet paper and it wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, it was pretty good (although the current scene is definitely terrible…ha!). You water the plant and the color picks up and the roots deepen. Then realize you’re nearing the seventh inning. The home stretch. Excitement grips once again and your off, writing like a bandit. The plot twists and energy builds and you’re rooting for your main character to hang in there, to overcome the bad guy, to win! When you finish, you sit back and stare at the scoreboard and marvel at a game well played.

I’m in that mid-game slump right now. The story is planted in my brain and I know I’m going to finish; I’m in too far and too much in love with the story to quit. I’ve just got to get over that hill. The Pixar Touch posted a list of story rules as tweeted by Emily Coats, basically how to story board tips.. (Go check it out, there are some really good ideas!). Here are three of the tips I think I’m going to try to push myself to the seventh inning stretch:

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

There are so many other gems she mentions. The tip I have is don’t quit. In the middle of the game when the guy behind you is steadily getting more drunk and the players seem like someone slipped Quaaludes in their Gatorade, and that stupid fluffy contraption they call a mascot won’t freaking shut-up, and your butt hurts, and you just want to leave– DON’T. Stay. Because in a little while, the excitement will build again. The crowd will rise and start singing and the game will pick up and you’ll figure it out.

Do you have any tips for getting through the mid-game slump? I would love to hear them! (Oh, and go Red Sox! Yes, I’m a southern gal, but I love that team!)

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5 thoughts on “The Mid-Game Slump and the 7th Inning Stretch

  1. Beautiful analogy and great inspiration! Good luck powering through and thank you for the great link as well. Unfortunately I have no secret tips so I’m just going to go with good old ‘You can do it!’

  2. yes, great analogy. although, when i went to see a game with my dad, i must say, they did everything they could to entertain the crowd in between innings. i couldn’t believe the non-stop activity. (maybe not all games are like that or maybe that could stand for outside distractions, i don’t know) anyway, i loved the idea of coming up with a list of things not to do next when you’re stuck- never tried that. usually if i’m stuck, i just reread the previous chapter and then get back into gear, but the few times i’ve been seriously stuck, i’ve made a general note, like ‘need dialogue scene about “x” here’ or ‘need to write out chase scene here’ and then i skip ahead to the next scene i know i can write. i don’t usually write with a detailed outline sketched out ahead of time, but i do have a general idea of where the story is going and what major scenes and plot points i have in mind early on in the writing process. sometimes moving past the stuck parts will give me time to see if i really even need them or if maybe they need to be moved to a different part of the manuscript. the first time i allowed myself to skip ahead, it was such a relief because the words started flowing right away in the new direction.

    • I tried that recently for the first time. I typed PLACEHOLDER and highlighted it and moved on to the next scene. The next day those words just came to me. I’m like you, I don’t outline, but I’ve got a good idea where the story is going. I think I’m going to start using that trick more often to keep the flow going!

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