What Venison, Water Diversion and Baseball
Taught me about Good Writing
By Thomas Hiatt
“Will my article be interesting enough?
Writers often assume they must have some grand subject like war or earthquakes to be compelling. However, some of the most engaging articles I’ve read have been on such not-terribly-sexy subjects as water diversion to farmland and how to turn your fresh venison into a tasty stew.
As an example, before 1989 or so, I never cared much for the game of baseball. Glancing at the television, I thought it preposterous; basically men-children paid millions of dollars to play with sticks and rocks and run around in circles. (When my younger self played T-ball – basically baseball without a pitcher – I had such little interest in it that I wandered into the stands, oblivious to my turn at bat. I wasn’t even sure of where the bases were and would take off into the out field – to the cat callings and cussings of my team mates.)
Then revelation came in the form of Shoeless Joe, a novel by W. P. Kinsella. It is strong testimony that this book simultaneously improved my view of both baseball and the state of Iowa. (I became so fascinated with the state that I brought my father and older brother down to Dyersville, location of the Field of Dreams baseball diamond.)
The novel fascinates because baseball is metaphor for lost idealism, simpler times. The bond between father and son, the land’s fertility; all of the universals draw the reader into this “book about baseball.” Take any subject, make it sing and the audience will find you.
But this blog is not really about baseball, Iowa, or W.P Kinsella, but rather the innate power of good writing, which has an innate power outside it’s given subject. An article on venison stew can be about the ethics of hunting, about self-reliance, about innovation, rural vs. urban lifestyles, et-cetera. A piece on water diversion to farmland can also delve into ecology, private vs. public rights, what we serve at our tables and so on and so forth.
Compelling writing pulls the reader into the writer’s world – even if that world is not of initial interest to the reader.
As the book says, “Build it and they will come.”
NOTE: Tom Hiatt is a fellow Libran and member of the Fergus Falls Writers Group. He is originally from Minneapolis, but has fallen in love with Western Minnesota since moving to Morris in 1994. Tom, who says that our writing group has been a blessing both in terms of improving his craft and in fostering wonderful friendships, has written for several area publications including the Morris Sun Tribune, the St. Cloud Times, and Senior Perspective, as well as numerous short stories with a novel pending.