I’m most comfortable writing longhand, in pen,on a legal pad. Although my prose almost always improves when I type it out (I think?), I still dread “getting it on the computer.”
The other night, as an exercise, I decided to type out the first page of one of my favorite novels, The Sportswriter. I was curious how such sacred prose would look in an ordinary, bland Microsoft Word document. Would it still lift off the page in the same assured way? Create the same momentum? Would I worry about evening out the lines as I typed, trying to make the paragraph blocks as symmetrical as possible, even altering my prose to do so?
No, I didn’t care about the shape of the text. (A relief.)
And yes, when I re-read it, it still drifted right up off the page.
So maybe something for you to try if you’re stuck or bored.
My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
For the past fourteen years I have lived here at 19 Hoving Road, Haddam, New Jersey, in a large Tudor house bought when a book of short stories I wrote sold to a movie producer for a lot of money, and seemed to set my wife and me and our three children—two of whom were not even born yet—up for a good life.
Just exactly what that good life was—the one I expected—I cannot tell you now exactly, though I wouldn’t say it has not come to pass, only that much has come in between. I am no longer married to X, for instance. The child we had when everything was starting has died, though there are two others, as I mentioned, who are alive and wonderful children.
I wrote half of a short novel after we moved here from New York and then put it in the drawer, where it has been ever since, and from which I don’t expect to retrieve it unless something I cannot now imagine happens.
Twelve years ago, when I was twenty six, and in the blind way of things then, I was offered a job as a sportswriter by the editor of a glossy New York magazine you have all heard of, because of a freelance assignment I had written in a particular way he liked. And to my surprise and everyone else’s I quite writing my novel and accepted.
And since then I have worked at nothing but that job, with the exception of vacations, and one three-month period after my son died when I considered a new life and took a job as an instructor in a small private school in western Massachusetts where I ended up not liking things, and couldn’t wait to leave and get back here to New Jersey and writing sports.
My life over these twelve years has not been and isn’t now a bad one at all. In most ways it’s been great. And although the older I get the more things scare me, and the more apparent it is to me that bad things can and do happen to you, very little really worries me or keeps me up at night. I still believe in the possibilities of passion and romance. And I would not change much, if anything at all. I might not choose to get divorced. And my son, Ralph Bascombe, would not die. But that about it for these matters.
Why, you might ask, would a man give up a promising literary career—there were some good notices—to become a sportswriter?
It’s a good question. For now let me say only this: if sportswriting teaches you anything, and there is much truth to it as well as plenty of lies, it is that for your life to be worth anything, you must sooner or later face the possibility of terrible, searing regret. Though you must also manage to avoid it or your life will be ruined.
I believe I have done these two things. Faced down regret. Avoided ruin. And I am still here to tell about it.
–The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford