Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I grew up in an enormous family ... there were five children at first, and then through divorce and remarrying, there were nine of us. That dropped back down to eight, and then bounced back up to ten. I'm near the bottom of this heap, so you can believe I learned pretty quick how to do two things: get away from people who were much larger than myself, and stake out my little bits of secret territory, just for me. 

For a few years, my brothers and I used to play this game. The name we used for it is utterly politically incorrect, so I'll just call it Kill the Guy. It was pretty simple: we threw a ball around the yard. If you caught the ball, everyone else tried to take it away. That was it. No rules. Full-contact tackling, gouging, biting, dragging, kicking, crying, telling parents, hiding ... it was all fair game. It was the most brutal game of hot potato ever invented.

There were two great lessons in this game. First, you could tell right away which brothers had no interest in getting the ball. 'Cause getting the ball meant you were the sudden object of a great deal of violent attention. It took guts for the littlest ones of us to hold the ball for more than a few seconds before some older brother pounded you to the ground. Second, we found out who was willing to go all-out, balls-to-the-wall crazy to bring down the ball carrier ... 

After one game, I asked a brother of mine if he'd let me bring him down one particular time. This brother was ten years older than me. He was an athlete who could walk across the yard on his hands and do flips with no trampoline. I figured he was being nice.

"No," he said. "I didn't let you. But you did anyway. Because you put in that second effort. You grabbed my heel on the way down, after I shook you off ..."

I've thought about that exchange a lot since then. I was probably eight when he said this to me, but it was one of those moments when someone else illuminates a quality you don't even know you had. At the time, I had no idea what the word "persistent" meant, and in my family, the word they usually used to describe me was "stubborn" (or just "obnoxious"). But later, I've learned that persistence may be the quality that, more than anything else, gets me through the day.

So it goes with writing. I'm a little stuck right now, flailing a bit with my new WIP. I'm still processing what just happened with my first book, and my nerves are a little shot with the second book about to go out. I'm raw as road rash. But none of that matters, because I can still feel a reservoir of persistence kicking around down in there. And I think maybe that's one of the most important qualities any writer can have. 


Mark Terry said...

Y'know? We used to play dodgeball and, er... Smear the Queer (sound familiar?), with pretty similar rules, and we sometimes had kids of varying ages involved. I wonder if there's a connection to writers and these sorts of neighborhood games.

I sometimes call myself a "grinder." It applies to my writing and I've commented to my guitar teacher the same thing. Give me a goal and I'll just keep grinding away at it, day after day after day. I'll repeat the damned two measures a thousand times or I'll just keeping churning out pages and queries, whatever...

And in writing, not until I give up!, but until I accomplish whatever I'm trying to accomplish. Scratch a successful writer, find a stubborn bastard.

LurkerMonkey said...


Yep. That's what we called it too ... although there were a few other choice names also.

And I love that: scratch a successful writer, find a stubborn bastard. No doubt!

Jude Hardin said...

We just called it Kill the Man with the Ball. High concept.

When I asked Tess Gerritsen if she had any advice for aspiring writers, persistence was the first word out of her mouth. Good advice, I think.

spyscribbler said...

Okay, this might be a boy thing. Let me get this straight: if you got the ball, you got attacked. So, um... why would you want the ball? Did you win anything? Did they have to stop attacking if you made it past a certain "goal" or something?

Just sayin. The way you explain it makes me think it should be called Kill the Sucker Who Grabbed the Ball. :-)

My greatest problem is focusing on the next thing, when I'm impatient for the big picture. Like, right now I have a novella to write and one to end, and I'm antsing about my March novel. I have to focus on the next step, not the big picture, LOL.

LurkerMonkey said...


LOL. Yes, that's exactly what it was. No goals. No objective. Only the glory of withstanding a full-on assault. Definitely a boy thing. As a side note, and as a firmly feminist guy, I find it endlessly amusing how mystified women often are by the strange rituals and byways of the burly gender.

L.C. Gant said...

I'd have to disagree about that game being just for boys! I come from a family of all girls--2 younger sisters and cousins for days--and I vaguely recall playing a game like the one you described.

I think we called it something weird like Ball Tag, but I remember a lot of running around, tackling, pulling hair and of course, plenty of crying. No boys in sight. I don't know whose idea it was; I just know that I jumped on board. So you see, girls can have pent-up aggression, too!

LurkerMonkey said...


Good point! I have a bunch of sisters too, so I'm pretty intimately acquainted with the idea ... Maybe you can answer me a question, though: how come the girls always got their own bathroom?!

L.C. Gant said...

Hmm... You know, I have no idea! I had only sisters growing up, and we all shared one bathroom. I imagine it's the same reason girls have separate shower stalls in gym class and there are separate stalls in women's bathrooms. There seems to be this societal mentality that women need more privacy than men. Weird, huh?