There’s a problem with this philosophy: it’s wrong. There’s little to no evidence that sacrificing strikeouts in favor of quick ground-outs is effective in either keeping pitch counts down or in suppressing the pitcher’s Earned Run Average (ERA).
With Spring Training drawing to a close and quotes about pitching to contact coming back into vogue, I turned this concept over in my head this morning and realized that it also applies to the writing world…or artists in general. You could apply it to just about any artistic medium.
Let’s lay the groundwork here; it’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s one I’m willing to run with, so that should be enough. Assuming a writer is in the pitcher position (and that’s surprisingly apt, much like baseball the writer takes a one on one relationship with a reader, let’s say the editor is the catcher calling signs), the philosophy of “pitching to contact” would be doing just enough to both get something out quickly and put it somewhere that you think the reader (hitter) would want it.
The problem becomes readily apparent. Working quickly results in mistakes, and when you’re trying to target what you think the reader wants, those mistakes can become catastrophic. Say, for example, you’re writing a mystery according to a certain formula, hoping to woo mainstream readers. You want to get it out as quickly as possible because, hell, that’s what we do to earn full-time livings these days, right?
You miss something major, and the story falls apart in the third act. Bad reviews follow, and you have to dig your way out of the hole. Much like the pitcher who rushes and throws a meatball on the inside half of the plate and watches a dinger sail over the fence.
This is especially relevant to my situation. I became that writer. I became hellbent on responding to every beta readers’ issues, altering every angle of my story until it became something that was no longer entirely mine. Now don’t get me wrong, beta reader comments are incredibly important. Beta reader comments have added a couple of strong chapters to Room 3. But at some point you have to know when to say when and trust your instincts. It is, after all, your story – the readers aren’t as invested as you (which is also a blessing of their involvement).
In short, I’ve realized beta reader comments are kind of like that phrase from Alcoholics Anonymous: take what you need and leave the rest. That’s not a bad thing at all – it means that you’re incorporating feedback in an active, intelligent manner, instead of just scrambling and being reactive the whole time.
My breakthrough really came when I realized I was ready to own the decisions that I made on content and covers. Even if those decisions turn out to be bad ones, they’ll be mine – and I’ll probably learn something in the process. That’s part of the pitching process, too: learning a hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, true, but also knowing your own strengths and weaknesses. Often, you can only learn those by experience.