Our DePauw women's basketball team, with an undefeated 25-0 record during the regular season, advanced last night to the "sweet sixteen" in the NCAA women's division III playoffs. The game was held right here on campus, in our Lilly Center, and I was there to see them play.
Previously a complete sports ignoramus, I've now learned a few things from watching several DePauw women's basketball games this year. My favorite thing that I've learned concerns the "thirty-second clock." When each team get the ball, a visible clock above the backboard begins counting down thirty seconds; each team gets thirty seconds in which they have to attempt to shoot, and if they don't shoot in that time, the ball is given to the other team.
For the first twenty of those seconds, nothing much happens. They pass the ball back and forth around the perimeter of the court area, casting glances at the choice inner region where they'd prefer to be, but the other team's guards keep them from getting to that sweet spot. As the clock reaches 11 seconds, their teammates seated on the bench start chanting the countdown aloud, to give them notice that time is running out: "Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!" Things still aren't looking good.
Then, as the player with the ball hears "Five! Four! Three!" she has no choice but to do something. So either she shoots from farther away than she likes, or she somehow miraculously muscles her way to a closer shooting spot. And guess what? In the games I've seen, as often as not she scores - and even scores a three-point outside basket. And if she misses, as often as not a teammate grabs the rebound, shoots, and "Two points for DePauw!"
So of course I can't resist applying this rule of basketball to writing and to life. Alas, in writing and in life, there is no actual thirty-second clock. Instead we can spend YEARS bouncing ideas idly around the perimeter of the court, hoping that somehow a promising avenue of approach will open up, and then one does open up that seems sort of good, but hey, if we wait a little bit longer, another one may open up that is even better. So we dribble our lives away, and nothing ever happens.
But whenever I've been under a real time crunch, with a real deadline (even if self-imposed), and I force myself to shoot, force myself actually to put some words on the page, guess what? As often as not those words are pretty good. And if the words fall short of the goal, as often as not I now have the writing momentum to seize my pen again and rewrite them. Then: "New book, or paper, or poem for Mills!"
Yay for the thirty second clock!