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The Myth of the 5-Point Writer

With baseball season on the way, I finally decided to watch Moneyball. It was a good movie. The subplot of the film had to do with Brad Pitt’s character, Billy Bean, a real-life baseball player / executive, seeking personal redemption. The central story was about Bean, Oakland A’s GM, attempting to restructure a team on a shoestring budget. But Bean’s motivation, we learn, was his own disappointing career.

Billy Bean was a highly recruited five-star college star. In baseball, the five-point player refers to someone who possesses a rare combination of these skills:

  • Baserunning
  • Hitting for power
  • Hitting for average
  • Fielding
  • Throwing

Bean did not live up to expectations on the field. Which motivated him at the business level. It led to him finding his real niche as a trailblazing, forward-thinking  executive. It’s an inspirational story and one, I think, which has a unique application for writers.

Five-point players are a rarity.

In sports or the arts.

Billy Bean was a five-star college athlete. Great. But he was a one-star baseball executive. Being great at that one thing was better, in the long run, than being good at those five things. His one-star strength surpassed his five-star promise.

Maybe yours does too.

Striving to be a five-point player — trying to be good at everything — can often distract us from being good at the things we ARE good at. Which is why many writers overlook their strengths in an attempt to emulate other authors, expand their genre canon, or hone their writing chops.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting writers don’t try new things, don’t try to branch out, don’t mix it up, don’t attempt to improve. I’m suggesting it’s more realistic to find and develop your signature strength than trying to be a Renaissance Writer.

When I played softball, my mantra was, “Stay Within Yourself.” You see, we had a lot of very good softball players on our team. Guys that could hit with power, run the bases, and throw a guy out from deep center field. Me? Not so much. For a while a tried to be them, with no success. (I think I hit 1 home run in my entire career, and it was an inside-the-park home run.) Things changed for me when I started concentrating on just getting hits, when I stayed within myself. I eventually turned into a good hitter. Singles. Doubles. Nothing spectacular, no sizzle. But I got on base a lot. And became confident. And found my niche.

I turned into a good hitter when I stopped trying to hit home runs.

I wonder if the same is true for writers. Instead of trying to emulate writing rock stars, why not stay within ourselves?

Honestly, I don’t know many 5-point writers. I’m pretty sure I’m not one of them. But who needs home runs anyway? Especially when you can crank out a lot of singles?

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Kat Heckenbach April 4, 2012, 7:04 AM

    Awesome observation, Mike. I agree. As Mad-Eye Moody said to Harry Potter, “Play to your strengths.” There are a lot of awesome writers out there I’d love to be able to emulate, and I do push myself when I find something that inspires me, but I know I have certain strengths and tend to put most of my focus on those when writing.

    I also think this carries over to marketing. As writers we’re overwhelmed with marketing advice, and if we try to follow it all two things happen: we spread ourselves too thin and we never have time for writing anymore. We have to figure out where our marketing focus is best used or we put far too much into it with far too little return in any given area.

    • Mike Duran April 4, 2012, 8:50 AM

      Kat, I think you’re right about the marketing application. It’s easy, as a writer, to feel overwhelmed by all the marketing options. Doing one or two really well is probably a better approach than trying to do all of them well. Appreciate your thoughts!

  • Nicole April 4, 2012, 7:46 AM

    Good analogy, Mike.

  • Jody Lee Collins April 4, 2012, 8:15 AM

    Mike–yes, what a great analogy. And not each piece will be a ‘single…’ it might just be another day of practice. This has taken the pressure off for me, at least.

    (I’m looking forward to seeing Moneyball–we have a friend who actually got a speaking part in it. And a propos of nothing, any ideas why it got nominated for Best Picture, by the way?)

  • Alan O April 4, 2012, 10:05 AM

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Post of the year, so far… And I couldn’t agree with Kat more: This is applicable not only from a craft/artistry standpoint, but also from a marketing/business angle.

    A true weakness is different from a knowledge gap. A gap is a temporary state that can be closed by training, education, practice & experience. But a weakness is a pervasive characteristic, and no amount of wishing, praying & banging your head against a brick wall will change it to any appreciable degree.

    Successful individuals (& organizations) do not waste time trying to get blood from a turnip. They take a clear, hard look at their own limitations, and…as you eloquently explained…they compensate for their soft spots and play to their strengths.

  • Katherine Coble April 4, 2012, 10:28 AM

    So what are the skills that make a 5 point writer?

    • Carradee April 4, 2012, 10:53 AM

      I’d say it depends. It could be someone who tries to do multiple writing stages by themselves, or it could be someone who tries to do all self-publishing aspects by themselves, including cover design.

      Can some folks do it? Yep.

      Should everyone do it? No.

    • Mike Duran April 4, 2012, 11:04 AM

      How about a writer who’s good at 1.) Developing unique characters, 2.) Original plots, 3.) Beautiful prose, 4.) Realistic, witty dialog, and 5.) Realistic worldbuilding.

      • Katherine Coble April 4, 2012, 5:21 PM

        That’d be George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss right there.

    • Mike Duran April 4, 2012, 11:11 AM

      Or maybe someone who can write good in multiple genres, write deep books quickly, with both critical and commercial success.

  • Carradee April 4, 2012, 10:52 AM

    Great point. When I was a teen, I reached a point where I was interested in writing and drawing. I’d taken some lessons in both, and I had skilled friends who could tutor me in both. I sat down and considered my choices:

    1. I could improve my drawing, cutting into the time I spent writing and critiquing, skills I’d already spent more time developing.
    2. I could ditch the drawing, continuing to focus on the writing and critiquing to make them even better.

    I chose option 2.

    Guess what pays the bills now? ^_^

  • Jill April 4, 2012, 12:45 PM

    I want to be a SUPERSTAR (well, who doesn’t?)! Some stars have 5 points. I just haven’t decided whether to debut in the New York Times bestseller list, Nashville, Hollywood, or the Texas polka circuit.

    • Katherine Coble April 4, 2012, 1:53 PM

      Ooh, NASHVILLE!!!!

      • Jill April 4, 2012, 3:12 PM

        I’d sleep my way to the top, but my alarm just wakes me right up.–TMBG

  • Bob Avey April 5, 2012, 3:21 PM

    Good post, Mike.

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