What an All-Star Can Teach Us About Writing

I had the opportunity to see the Lakers play in the Staples Center on Tuesday night. They were crushed by the Phoenix Suns, who couldn’t seem to miss a shot if they tried. But Kobe was back — his second game back since tearing his Achilles tendon nine months ago. Even if you don’t live in LA, you surely know about Kobe Bryant, the larger-than-life Hall of Famer. People love him, people hate him. People pay huge amounts of money to go see him, because he does things that defy gravity and because, when the buzzer is about to go off, he will fight for position, fight for the ball, fight for an opening, and when there’s not a prayer of a basket, he’ll find a way to sink it through what appears to be sheer will.

I like watching sports, but I don’t normally go to giant arenas for any reason. I’m not a big fan of super loud music, super bright lights, or LA freeways . (And yeah, okay, I’m not a big fan of leaving my house. Give me a book and a cup of tea and I’m happy.) So for me, being in the Staples Center in the midst of Kobe’s comeback was a pretty unusual experience. There’s no way I could be blasé about it.  I mean, it’s impressive out there.

On Tuesday night, there were T-shirts on every seat. They call Kobe the Black Mamba. When he shuts teams down, they call it Black Out. The shirts said “Black Out,” written with a super cool snake graphic, and below that, the words, “Show us again.”

There was a massive banner with Kobe’s face and these words printed down the center: “He has nothing left to prove, but he’ll do it anyway.”

Show us again. Prove it anyway. Just do it.

The shirts — and the slogan — were part of a massive ad campaign Nike launched just after Kobe’s heartbreaking injury. (Watch this video, narrated by Ice T to see what it was all about.) The Nike execs up in Oregon aren’t stupid; they know that Kobe wasn’t going to let something like an Achilles’ tendon tear slow him down for long. They know that what Kobe wants – to be far more than good; to be truly great --- is what we all want. It’s just that Kobe goes about his quest on a much bigger scale than most of us, and in a much more public manner.

On Tuesday night, and on every game night, he does it in front of 70,000 screaming fans.  Forget, for a moment, the millions more at home on their couches. 70,000 people come out to watch him, to judge him, to make him prove it.

It struck me, while sitting in the Staples Center, that any writer would be thrilled to have 70,000 readers. 70,000 readers would put you atop the bestseller list. 70,000 readers would put a lot of money in your pocket. 70,000 readers would ensure that you could do it again and again.

Last week, I talked about how you better know what your book is really about.

But guess what? Knowing what it’s really about is only the start of the challenge. Knowing what it’s about it like Kobe knowing the rules of a basketball game. The next step is to bring it to life the way Kobe does on the court.

Pretend you are in the spotlight in the center of a giant arena. The fans are there. The T-shirts say, “Show us again.” The banner says, “Prove it anyway.”

They know the story – what your book is about. Now what are you going to do to capture your readers’ attention? What are you going to make them feel something they haven’t felt before, to make them know something about the world or human nature that they didn’t know before, to make them think about something they hadn’t thought about in that way before?

Every day when you sit down to write, that’s what you’re doing. Proving it.