TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott on writing: Don’t be weird
Henry Abbott is a premier example of a blogger made good. He founded the TrueHoop basketball blog in 2005, and a mere two years later sold it to ESPN, which turned it into the TrueHoop blog network, with Abbott a senior writer.
He’s the first person I’ve asked for their best advice about writing who has offered advice I’ve never heard before:
Don’t be weird.
That’s a line that my mother-in-law used with her Jack Russell when it would lick the couch. The dog’s name was Spot, and she’d see him doing that and command, “Spot, don’t be weird.” And he would lift his head, exposing a little damp spot of fabric.
The writing I love to read, and try to write, is not weird. My basic assumption is that the truth is messy as hell — a tangled web of relationships, evidence, half-truths and subtlety. If you’re in the business of describing this world to readers, do them the favor of not making it even weirder than it already is in how you tell it. In other words, tell it straight — any true story is weird enough without you helping it along.
I recognize that’s not how Shakespeare did it.
The weird thing applies to gathering information, too. Overheard stuff, whispered stuff, too-good-to-be-true stuff … all that falls into the category of “tips.” Not “sources.” If you have a tip, something you got some weird way, take it to those directly involved and get the real story the unweird way. It’ll cost you several scoops and a headache here or there, but it will also prevent career-threatening embarrassment.
Make your brand about straightforwardness, and people will like to read, and they’ll like to deal with you in all aspects of the work.
It’s not the only way to get ahead, but it’s the only way that makes sense to me.
It’s not the only way that makes sense to me, and I can’t say I’ve always lived by it. I also can’t say I’ve been right not to live by it.
What do you think? Is playing it straight the best way to go? Have you been burned by being weird, journalistically speaking? Conversely, have you regretted playing it straight, thinking in hindsight you should have been a little weird?
Let us know in the comments.
Thompson photo: MDC Archives/Creative Commons