No hobby of mine catches people off-guard like fantasy football.
I am one of the least athletic people I know. Apart from the Olympics, during which my mother and I would be glued to the TV screen, I scarcely tuned in to watch any sports. I've been to one baseball game as part of a fundraiser and one hockey game since my high school choir was invited to perform "God Bless America" out on the ice before the match.
When it comes to football specifically, I knew absolutely nothing. I'd watched the Super Bowl maybe three times, with my interest not in the game itself but in the commercials and the halftime show depending on who was performing. It just wasn't my thing. Glorified fetch, I'd call it.
Yet, somehow, I've been involved with a family fantasy football league for three seasons now. Even though a lot of football jargon goes over my head and I can only name a handful of players outside of the most recognizable names like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, I've come to enjoy it greatly.
To sum it up if you're like me three years ago and have zero clue what I'm talking about, fantasy football is more or less pretending to manage a football team. During the draft, you claim players from all NFL teams to fill each position in your roster, moving them around your lineup, adding and dropping players, and trading as the need arises. Each week, your team faces off against another in your league, accumulating points based on each player's performance.
I've gradually improved when it comes to fantasy football. The 2022-2023 season was actually d'Fense & d'Fensibility's best to date! I mean, I actually made it to the playoffs for once!
Yes, my team's name is a Jane Austen pun. Better yet, the team icon is Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars poorly photoshopped into a football helmet.
As unrelated as they may be, I've also picked up a few writing lessons as my team takes the field.
In honor of Super Bowl LVII, here are four lessons on writing from fantasy football!
Do Your Research...
Going into my first season of fantasy football totally blind was a BIG mistake. I had done enough poking around online to get a feel for what I was getting myself into but hardly scratched the surface. I did not look into how the scoring worked, which players to consider adding to my team, which positions to prioritize when selecting players—frankly anything that would have been good to know ahead of time.
The fantasy football app my league uses offers mock drafts where you can familiarize yourself with the system and get scored based on your roster.
I did not take advantage of this.
When the day of my first draft rolled around, I was at a loss. Not only did I have zero clue what I was doing, but the time limit for each pick resulted in some hasty decisions and a team that was less than stellar.
Let's just say it's a miracle I didn't finish the season in last place!
Had I taken the time to research and learn about the ins and outs of fantasy football, d'Fense & d'Fensibility would've had a better debut.
The same can be said for writing.
I'm a believer that while beneficial, enrolling in writing courses is not a total must when it comes to learning the craft. Between all of the how-to books out there, hundreds of creators sharing their tips on YouTube and similar platforms, and the ease of connecting with writers on social media, there are plenty of ways to learn how to write.
Additionally, writing itself is an exploratory art that you just learn along the way and figure things out as you go. Everyone has their own individual style that cannot be taught, per se, but is discovered through writing itself and evolves over time.
That all said, there are things about writing that are important to research.
Genre conventions are something a writer should be at least aware of. These are things readers anticipate seeing in a book in whichever genre you've chosen to write in. For example, it is expected that a romance novel ends with the love interests getting together and getting their happily ever after or, at a minimum, a happily for now.
When these expectations are not met, readers are likely going to be disappointed. It's like making a promise but not following through on it.
As much as you want your book to stand apart from the crowd, it is equally important to make sure it hits those notes that will make it resonate with readers.
Do the research. Read books in your genre. Keep an eye on ongoing trends and be on the lookout for commonalities from one story to the next, what works for you and what doesn't.
Observing what those around you are doing can help you find success.
...But Trust Your Gut
Rash decisions in the draft and injuries literally every week to the point my team was nicknamed The Boo-Boo Boys resulted in d'Fense & d'Fensibility being an ever-changing team. It was horrible.
Two players became my MVPs amid the turmoil: Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who I had since the draft, and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who I picked up about halfway through the season (and who frankly carried d'Fense & d'Fensibility until he tore his ACL).
Having found success with these two players, you would think they would have been top of my list come season two and that I would have made sure to pick them in the next draft.
I didn't. And I suffered because of it.
So. What the heck went wrong in season two?
Was it the dreaded sophomore slump?
As far as my own decision-making goes and what I had control over, it came from overindulging in research and depending too heavily on outside sources.
You're probably wondering how this could possibly be given the previous section of this post insisting you do your research and how vital it is to success.
The thing is, you can also do too much research, and that can have a negative impact of its own.
When approaching the draft for my second season, I wanted to do better than my first go (which honestly wouldn't have been that hard but I digress), so I started diving into the rabbit holes of research, binge-watching YouTube videos about fantasy football and strategies for the draft, and studying articles with recommended draft orders.
On the day of the draft, I pulled up the Wall Street Journal's guide to help me out. Not only did it list an order for which position to fill in each round, but also recommended players for those slots.
I followed it as best I could given all the variables including picking order and the size of the league. Picking a running back or wide receiver first seemed to be the right move, as that was what many other participants did, so I stuck with going by the book. But before I knew it, most of the Wall Street Journal's suggestions were gone—as were the two standouts from my first season I wanted for my second.
Diggs went to my aunt's while Burrow was on my cousin's brother-in-law.
My new team looked better on paper, I was a tad unhappy when the dust settled. I had an okay season but nothing to brag about and was mostly in the middle of the pack.
That's when it became clear that although there are statistics to take into consideration, intuition also plays a role.
Come season three, I had both Burrow and Diggs again, making sure to snag them with my first two picks. Whether or not it was the right thing to do as determined by the pros or how bad the fantasy football app was going to roast in its report (it can get absolutely vicious, believe me), that did not matter.
Trusting my gut in combination with keeping an eye on stats salvaged d'Fense & d'Fensibility. I was astonishingly in first place for two consecutive weeks, and the highest score of the week on multiple occasions, and was in the top three for a chunk of the season!
My team overall was solid, and a lot of that had to do with reclaiming Burrow and Diggs and, above all, trusting my gut.
Following your instincts is something I've been learning to do more when it comes to writing. As discussed in recent posts, I've set out to make 2023 the year I rediscover my voice as a storyteller and bring my WIP back to feeling more like my own again.
Between writing from an academic perspective for so long and at times prioritizing writing in a way that appeals to others before myself, I've felt like I've lost my sense of self in my work.
This most recent draft of Bound to the Heart has been all about finding my voice again. Allowing myself to be more sarcastic and just having fun. Letting loose.
Learning to trust my gut.
There is a time and a place for outside feedback. In many scenarios, it is crucial to making your work the best it can be.
But there are also times when placing your faith in your intuition will lead you down the better path.
The Tough Cuts
Fantasy football involves a fair bit of decision-making. Selecting players in the initial draft. Moving them between your bench and the roster depending on projected scores, injuries, bye weeks, and other factors.
And sometimes, you need to make tough cuts.
I had ended up with the New Orleans Saints as my defense in my first season and picked them in season two based on their performance the year prior. They were also my pick at the start of season three.
After a few weeks, I noticed the Saints were typically falling below projection. I deliberated over it for more time than I likely needed to. A lot of this came from my history with the team.
Like Diggs and Burrow, the Saints had been one of d'Fense & d'Fensibility's saving graces in the first season and had done well enough in the second. Having that in the back of my head made it hard to even consider other defenses.
Looking at the numbers, however, and seeing how they fared against my competitors' defense picks, I realized that I needed to make the cut if I wanted to maintain or improve my position in the league.
I eventually dropped the Saints and picked up the Philadelphia Eagles.
For the most part, Philly held up, at least being close to the projected score if not exceeding it. They kept my team afloat.
You'll often be faced with tough cuts in writing. By now, you're likely sick of hearing people talk about murdering darlings, but it's a phrase that bears repeating.
Writers have a habit of becoming attached to particular things in their stories. It could be something as small as a line of dialogue to something more substantial like a character or a scene.
Once you get to the revisions phase, you may have beta readers or editors suggesting these darlings be taken out altogether. You might feel the urge to fight for them to stay and defend them with everything you have.
However, those cuts are recommended not to tear your work down, but to strengthen it.
Heartbreaking and disappointing as killing your darlings can be, making those bit cuts tends to make the work stronger.
Embrace The Fun
I live in a corner of New England where you see a lot of Patriots and Giants jerseys out and about, with the occasional Cowboys or Packers fan in the mix. When you see a game on at a restaurant or on the TV screens scattered around the casinos in the area, chances are one of those teams is on the field.
And then there's me. Believe it or not, fantasy football has made a Cincinnati Bengals fan out of this knows-nothing-about-football girl.
Okay, with all the talk of Joe Burrow in this post, it's probably not that big of a surprise.
They've become "my" team in a sense. You'll hear me exclaim "Who Dey!" whenever I get a notification about Burrow's score on game dey or talk about other Bengals players like Mixon or Chase when I see them on an opponent's roster.
After I made it into the playoffs for the first time, I snagged a Burrow jersey on eBay with enough loose threads in the embroidery to be marked down considerably. Something about sporting bragging rights when we did Christmas at my aunt and uncle's house felt right.
Plus I just wanted it because why not?
The thing is, I've yet to see someone else wearing a Bengals jersey in my region. If I lived in or near Ohio, I'm sure they would be a lot more common than the teams based in Boston or New York.
When my being a casual Bengals fan comes up in conversation, or even just the fact I take part in fantasy football to begin with, it's often met with a perplexed tilt of the head or quirk of the brow. It's not exactly what is expected of me.
Over the three years I've been involved with fantasy football, I've learned to have fun with the competition and embrace my interests even if people don't get it.
And that's also been true for writing.
As far back as high school, when I first really committed to writing and wanted to pursue a career in it, many of my classmates found it a little odd to say the least. When I enrolled at a liberal arts college with the intention of majoring in English with a creative writing concentration, there were some negative reactions and concerns over my working towards a "useless degree."
And then there's the fact that I write romance. Despite its being one of the best-selling genres, romance is not always held in the highest of regards. Some deem it frivolous, fluff, or "not real literature."
The flack romance novels get is, I would argue, unwarranted. Authors may not deal with heavy topics in the same way as other genres, but serious matters are handled. You may not see them being read in high school classrooms (unless you're like me and would sneak them in on the regular), but they can cover themes explored in curriculum classics.
But let's not forget the reason many people read fiction: for pleasure.
Yes, both the fun meaning of pleasure and the spicy one, too.
Why shouldn't I want to write books that make readers feel good? When so many read to find a means of escape from their day-to-day lives, why should I not want to offer that?
Especially when it's something I wholeheartedly love with every fiber of my being?
My passion for writing romance may not be understood by some of the folks in my circle, but I've learned that the only thing that matters is that I am enjoying it.
When I first got into fantasy football, I was wary and stumbling around like a newborn calf.
Little did I know it would become one of my favorite hobbies and meld so well with my dearest passion.
I am far from a pro when it comes to team management, but d'Fense & d'Fensibility has come a long way from where it started—and so has my writing. The improvements were anything but overnight, but they are noticeable, and many of them happened once I began to trust my gut and have fun with the process.
And on that note, Happy Super Bowl Sunday to all who celebrate! May your socks be lucky, your wings* be hot, and your alcoholic beverage of choice be drunk responsibly.
*or whatever people eat at Super Bowl parties. Don't look at me, I'm still figuring this whole football thing out.