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Jun 7 / King Kaufman

What’s your best advice for writers? Yeah, you

Dave Dravecky warms up

Dave Dravecky warms up in front of a small section of the media scrum on Aug. 10, 1989. Your blogger was high above the right-field bleachers, background.

This blog has been offering up great advice from great sportswriters, but what can you, wise Bleacher Report readers and writers, teach each other?

I’d like to invite you to use the comments to offer up the best advice you’ve ever been given about being a writer, or the best advice you have to offer. Have you had an “aha” moment?

I’ll kick it off with an “aha” moment of my own. At the end of Joe Posnanski’s advice about staying humble, I promised to tell a story that I’d been reminded of by the advice Joe’s editor had given him: “If you find yourself in a large group of reporters, you’re probably in the wrong place.” Here it is.

In 1989, San Francisco Giants left-hander Dave Dravecky made a dramatic comeback from cancer and arm surgery. He’d had a significant chunk of muscle removed from his pitching arm and wasn’t expected to pitch again, but he returned for a game at Candlestick Park on Aug. 10, 1989, almost 15 months after his last appearance.

I was working on an unrelated story for the Oakland A’s magazine, so when batting practice ended, my job for the day, interviewing players and coaches about the subject of my article, was done. I could enjoy a day at the yard.

I decided to kill time before the first pitch with a walk around the big, circular stadium, a lap along the walkway at the front of the upper deck. As I strolled in the outfield sections, Dravecky made his way to the bullpen down the first base line, trailed by a massive pack of photographers and reporters, a scrum fit for a president or a pop star.

As Dravecky began his warmups, the media members, maybe 100 strong, arrayed themselves in a huge crescent starting behind the catcher and curling all the way past Dravecky and the mound. Dozens of photographers snapped away, at points four or five deep, all getting … the exact same picture!

Each photographer’s shot was a degree or two different from the shot of the person over, but they were all pretty much the same: Dave Dravecky warming up in the bullpen, looking pretty much like every other pitcher who ever warmed up in a bullpen.

I was a few hundred feet above all this wishing I had a camera, because I was looking at a great shot.

That massive crowd of photographers jostling for a shot of Dravecky warming up told the story: This was no ordinary start, no ordinary game. It was a remarkable day, a remarkable story, and that picture, had I been able to take it, would have captured a huge part of it.

That was an aha moment for me. I was just starting out, and that day taught me, as Joe Posnanski’s editor taught him, to stay out of crowds of reporters. Get yourself out of that pack to get a better perspective — and most likely a much better story.

It works figuratively just as well as literally. If you’re part of a consensus, does the world really need to hear your voice? Look for a way to step out of the crowd.

  • Colin Wyers

    Have something to say – something you care about, and something that you think readers will care about, too.

  • Robb Todd

    This is a wonderful lesson. When I was in college, a professor recounted the story behind Jimmy Breslin’s coverage JFK’s funeral. Instead of being with the throngs for all the pageantry, Breslin found a story nobody else had and made the funeral deeply human.

    There is so much advice to be had. What to add? Well, first: do not accidentally rhyme words. Second, care about every word you put on the page and interrogate them.

  • Tim Bielik

    Stick to your guns. Don’t get dismayed by negative comments because regardless of the topic, there are always haters. Defend your claims and be strong you do it. There’s nothing wrong with being different at times, but you have to back your opinions and accept constructive criticism. If you do that, you will be a much stronger writer.

    • Emma

      TYVM you’ve solved all my peroblms

  • Luis De Leon

    Proofread, proofread and proofread. Don’t expect editors to do all the dirty work for you. You’ll gain a lot of readers if you write about a hot topic or a unique/clever angle, but you won’t keep readers if they see obvious spelling and grammar errors. It can be a visual turn off for many.

    Make sure you do your research. History, stats, whatever it may be. It shows when you put time and effort into your articles. Just stating your opinion without checking the facts makes you look ignorant and you lose credibility as a writer.

    Also, don’t get discouraged if you get assigned a topic you’re not knowledgeable in. Research will usually get you up to enough speed to be able to write the article.

    Furthermore, treat all the people that comment on your article with respect. Even those that badmouth what you wrote. You can’t make everyone happy. Replying with the same harshness as them shows a lack of maturity.

  • Jordan Lewis

    In my short time writing for b/r, and in my lengthy experience reading articles posted on b/r, the most useful thing I have learned through reading others’ articles, and in writing my own is to put your biases aside. I’ve found that the best writers are able to discuss any topic without showing allegiances to a particular team, player, or organization. If you’re a Red Sox fan and you’re writing on a topic that contrasts them with the Yankees, it bodes well for you to be able to discuss both the flaws and successes of both teams. This is similar to what I’ve been taught all my life about general conversation: Be able to identify with your own areas to improve, as well as where you think you excel. It gives you credibility, respect, and a sense of maturity that is necessary for sports writing.

    I’m by no means an expert, but this is something that I am attracted to in acquaintances, and in the articles I read.

  • King Kaufman

    Thanks for the nuggets of advice so far. They’re all great.

    Except that one from Luis De Leon.

    I kid! See what I did there?

    Keep ‘em coming, folks. Anybody got an “aha” moment?

  • Sean

    Always ask yourself, “why would somebody read my article over another one on the same subject?” If you can’t answer that, keep working.

  • Sean

    Also, if you’re tweeting links to your articles, don’t tack “@sportsguy33″ or “@WhitlockJason” on the end in hopes that one of them will read it, think it’s the best thing they’ve ever read, and give you your big break. Unlikely and unprofessional.

  • Adam Koscielak

    Be able to admit to mistakes, if you make them.

    And that doesn’t mean that anytime someone says you’re wrong you should say “oops, sorry, I suck.” More along the lines, that if you say something about a team, and the TEAM proves you wrong in the next few games, you should certainly acknowledge it in the comments to that article, or another article.

    From my experience as a reader, nothing gained my respect more than a writer who was able to say “well, oops, I screwed up with that prediction.” Rather than try making facts fit his theory.

  • Roy Burton

    - Write about things that matter to you – if you aren’t passionate about the subject that you’re writing about, it will be evident in the finished product.

    - Know your audience. Before you start working on a piece, take a moment to figure out who’ll be reading your piece and what type of reaction you hope to invoke by the time they finish reading your story.

    - Sometimes, less is more. If a story can be told effectively in 500 words, then don’t waste your time and energy writing any more than that.

    - Most importantly, remember that anything that you write has your name on it. Take the time to edit and proofread your work, or have someone you trust do so. Just as with any walk of life, no one wants to see their name associated with sub-standard work.

  • Jon Sainz

    Continuing with what Roy said,

    - Write about things you know: it’s important to be informed and to know as much as possible about a subject, but it’s always better if you already know about it and don’t need to do huge amounts of research.

    - READ. Read a lot: It doesn’t even have to be sports related, comic books, novels, newspapers, etc. everybody writes a different way and you might find a style, phrases or words you’ve never read or heard before. This could help to find your own style, improve vocabulary and gives a greater choice of words.

  • Cian Fahey

    Strive to remain unbiased, there are too many writers that use their own personal feelings towards a team that cloud their vision. Every reader can see it and it will cost you your credibility.

  • Bleach