Over Memorial Day weekend, my sons and I watched the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played. If you’ve never seen it, Shia LaBeouf stars in the true story of Francis Ouimet, a working-class kid who falls in love with golf during the early 1900s. Read on to see what this could possibly have to do with writing.
At a time when golf was considered a sport for wealthy gentlemen only, Francis grows up idolizing a British pro, working as a caddy, and hitting balls whenever and wherever he can, accepting the cruel reality that this is the closest he’ll ever get to playing. Finally someone recognizes his talent and gives him a chance. Fast forward to 1913 and, despite a promise to his father to give up this nonsense and get a real job, Francis seizes an opportunity to enter the U.S. Open and challenge his childhood hero.
Through most of the movie, Francis is amazing, showing a bunch of snooty, privileged sportsmen that his potential has nothing to do with money, family name, or past success. In a few crushing scenes, however, he stumbles.
The first I saw coming. “I can do this in my sleep” always ends in discovering the hard way that you can’t.
He develops a pattern of letting the presence of one man in the audience rattle his confidence.
Then there is the moment when a well-meaning fan makes the mistake of telling Francis where he stands in the competition.
His greatness comes through when he tells his 10-year-old caddy, “Forget all of them. We’re playing our own game,” and focuses on nothing but the ball at his feet and what he needs to do to get it in the hole.
How many of us started the writing life like Francis, dreaming of achieving something supposedly set aside for smarter, more gifted people, idolizing favorite novelists and writing on the sly? Many of us had “Who do you think you are?” messages holding us back even if they were from decades past, or pressure to give up the nonsense and get a real job. Then the day came when someone believed in us, or we finally made up our minds to silence the mean voices in our heads and do what we sensed God calling us to at least try. Next thing we knew we were living out the desires of our hearts.
Yet we still have moments similar to Francis’s crusher scenes in The Greatest Game Ever Played.
We discover the hard way that writing is not something we can do in our sleep. No matter how many publishing credits we have, we still need to focus, work hard, and check for errors.
We let certain people rattle our confidence, whether that person is an editor, a critic, a disappointed reader, a mean-spirited-secretly-envious “friend,” a bitter family member, or that faceless someone that we might offend if we write the truth.
We find out where we stand, turning the craft into a competition. Whether our ranking is good or bad (according to whomever) an incorrect response can be deadly.
Hopefully, like Francis, we learn from our mistakes. That’s when we finally see the benefits of letting the “game” be between us and God, focus on the assignment in front of us, and let Him alone guide us in what we need to do to finish it with excellence.
That’s when we truly shine. Our ending may not look like the final scene of a feel-good movie, but somehow we know we’ve won. Then we face the challenge of trusting God with what we just accomplished, realizing that in the end, it’s His game.