Writers and Excuses

I’m sitting here in front of my computer just browsing around sites that I visit frequently, if not daily: NY Times, NY Mag, Atlantic, ESPN, et al. Just this morning, I was linked to an article about the 70 greatest pop culture conspiracy theories. You know, Elvis isn’t dead, Stevie Wonder isn’t blind, Paul McCartney actually died in 1971 and was replaced. The article had links to YouTube videos. It was a colossally distracting way to spend an hour.

But I wasn’t writing. I have a story to report on Wednesday night. I could have been prepping for that. I have another lead on a story for which I need to write a short pitch (to an editor I know and like and have worked with a lot, so it’s not even a really formal pitch). I could have been working on that. And I didn’t.

The house is quiet (the 7-month old has a bit of a cold and is napping). It’s a perfect opportunity to write or pitch or to be in some way proactive.

As writers, I think it’s easy to get into the mode of excuse making. Why wasn’t I writing? Want the reasons that I gave myself this morning in a morning of weakness?

I sat down at the computer, opened Pages.

Shook my coffee mug. “Ah, halfway empty. Let’s refill.” (Excuse #1)

I used the bathroom. (Excuse #2)

“What did the Celtics rank in total defense in 2015-16?” Googled it.

Stayed on basketball-reference.com for an extended time. Evan Turner likes to shoot mid-range jumpers? Word. I think there was a reference to this on The Ringer.

“2016-17 NBA Predictions? Well, this constitutes ‘work’ I think.” (Excuse #3)

Proceeds to read article that didn’t mention the Celtics once.

“I barely slept the last few nights (Excuse #4). I just need to chill out in the quiet for a couple minutes.” Reads NY Mag.

Well, here I am. And note that I did get some research and questions written down before I started writing here. The bottom line, maybe, is that writing can be hard. Getting motivated to write can be even harder. I had a friend in college who was fond of saying, “Doing nothing is the hardest thing to stop doing.”

We give ourselves excuse after excuse to delay the process until it becomes something more along the lines of, “Well, I have a grocery list to make and shopping to do and the trash won’t take itself out,” and then we don’t write. We make these impossible deadlines like write 1,000 words every day or write two pages of your book every day. We look at those goals and convince ourselves that, because we can’t accomplish that today, we shouldn’t do anything.

It’s like quitting a diet after two weeks because you snuck one brownie after dinner on a Saturday night. You don’t always have to meet your goals, every day. You just have to stay on the path, every day. Some days you’re going to exceed your goal; Some days you won’t even get halfway there. Both are okay. We just can’t let the latter get in the way.


The End of a Weird Week

Maybe my goal in writing every day is to be transparent enough with myself that I can kind of share what’s going on. I try to do that. Catharsis, maybe. Water ends up finding it’s level and that’s what writing things out tends to do for me. This week was an odd one, and one into which I won’t go into much detail, but it was stressful and caused a great deal of anxiety. I’m ready for a couple days off with family and friends and a couple more drinks than is healthy.

But the week was also rewarding in my return to the classroom as a guest speaker. It was a different experience being the one asked questions, rather than the one asking them. It’s very rare, I think, for a journalist to be on the other end of the microphone. All in all, the experience was fun. The rose on a week of thorns.

If you’re going to drink (like me) and read this weekend, here are some options:

Read: Bill Belichick has a crush list by Robert Mays. Belichick gets a lot of shit for coming off as arrogant in press conferences. He mumbles and doesn’t say a lot unless you get him on a topic he wants to discuss. Just this week, he gushed over the “roster addition” of his new grand-daughter. He railed against tablets earlier this week, too. Get him talking about tight ends or special teams or players he likes and he’ll give you a dissertation. Not to get too Patriots-heavy, but this on Dante Hightower was good. For the hoops fans, check out Shea Serrano on Kawhi Leonard. Apologies. The Ringer got a lot of love just now.

Also, been digging “Here I am” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I don’t always get into fiction, but I like him.

Drink: Wicked Weed Old Fashioned is an old ale, aged with cherries and orange zest in bourbon barrels. Yes, designed to mimic an already great drink. Hey, if you want to drink an Old Fashioned, do it. But this beer is spectacular. I was also a huge fan of Proclamation Ales Derivative this week. Brewed with galaxy hops, this beer was a crisp, clean but full flavored pale ale. Lots of citrus, light bitter finish. Great beer.

I know, no excuses

When I began writing every day at lunch time, I let it be known that I’d write every day in lieu of everything else going on. We’ve got deadlines, chores, e-mails to send, social media to distract us. Above all, writing every day.

For the first time in some time, I don’t have much to say. A personal issue has left this house anxious about our safety and this is monopolizing my brain space. We’ve had quite the infringement on our personal space, which is frightening in a home with two children.

That said, excuse or none, we write. I wrote an e-mail earlier today just to kind of unload and vent my frustrations, angers, and anxieties, and wrote, “Writing has the ability to level out where I am, high or low.”

This is a true statement. Regardless of where I am from a disposition standpoint, I’m able to write in a way to level myself to where I need to be. If I write because I’m excited or overly joyed, writing with soothe me. I will have to stop to think and make clear my statements. You can’t overwrite. You can’t express something frantically; On the other side of the coin, if I’m down, writing lets me “talk it out,” to figure out exactly how I am feeling and why. It’ll calm me. It’ll help me make sense of everything.

I’m often saying that life is fascinating. It’s also scary and maddening and filled with unanswered questions. Life is unpredictable. And so that’s that. It’s time to feed a hungry boy. It’s time to distract myself with his love.

And sometimes you’re done by noon.

Parents of children that are in their second year of life know the constant roller coaster that accompanies daily parenting. There are moments of humor: My daughter, who can’t get up from the dinner table until everyone is finished, trying to disguise her voice as our 6-month old to say, “I’m finished” then pretending she’s innocent in those antics; There are moments were it seems like we’ve got the most intelligent kid in the world: “No, daddy, mama teaches math”; There are moments we’re raising the most empathetic kid on the whole planet, one who is going to change the world in a tangible, positive way: My daughter soothing her brother saying, “I’m here Jack, I’m here” in the sweetest voice.

Then there’s the two year old who is upstairs during nap time yelling, “Daddy! Dad! Dad! Daddy!” over and over and over again because she does not want to sleep. There’s the two year old who did everything in her power to run away at the playground, through the gates and to the parking lot, from me and her brother this morning. There’s the two year old that did the opposite of anything I said today, doing the things I told her not to and not doing the things I asked her to.

So that’s that. By noon time today I was done. Flummoxed. Beaten. Out of (figurative) breath. The dishwasher needs to be emptied, dinner needs to be prepped, and based on the smell down here, I think it’s me that needs to shower. I’m also 30% sure I pulled my groin wrangling that small filly that stampedes around my house.

That’s how it goes, I guess.

I don’t have to tell anyone who had kids that it can be simultaneously soul-sucking and the most rewarding task with which you’ll ever be charged. We face tantrums and fits and tears and we’re belittled daily by little people who will end up getting an “I love you” and a hug  and tucked in at the end of the night; We’re screamed at and disobeyed by the same people about whom we share only the sweetest parts of their days. The funny, the heart-warming, and the moments of genuine curiosity or generosity typically trump those tantrums in the daily rewind of the day.

Man, they suck when they’re happening, though. Later, I’m going to have a beer in silence … If I can make it that far.

Back to School

Today, I’m going back — virtually, at least — to the western Massachusetts school from which I graduated. I was asked by a former professor to speak to his class about profile writing in sports journalism. The class recently read one of my profiles that I did for Vice Sports a short while back.

I don’t feel qualified for such instruction.

That’s not a modesty thing, to be honest. When I was in college, we had a Boston sportswriter come to chat with us and this was a guy who’d won Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year. He had credentials out the wazoo. He had a Hall of Fame vote. It was incredible to hear him speak about the profession because he had an amazing repertoire of stories and insight to share.

It’s possible that one day I’ll have the sort of acclaim that this person had, and the acclaim that the two Sports Illustrated writers had when they came to speak to the group. But right now I’m just a guy who struggles to write every day, a guy who puts forth his best effort to tell some great stories and tries to do so with empathy and compassion and objectivity.

My advice is simple for writing profiles: Make the person stand out on the page in one of two ways: (1) Make an ordinary person — a teacher, an IT guy at an office building — become extraordinary through their actions and words and through the words of others; (2) Make a person we deem extraordinary — an athlete, a politician — become ordinary by showing the quirks of his personality or habits, make that person accessible.

That’s always my goal and it’s not always easy.

Writing is learned task, I believe. We can become better writers. We can become better teachers or doctors or accountants, too. Writing seems to be a profession in which the skills needed are skills that people believe come inherently. They don’t. Well, they don’t anymore than a person’s proclivity for numbers or science or singing. Those people, too, believe it or not, practice and work at what they do.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to offer a class more tangible advice than this: Here is how I do it. This is what I think makes a great profile.

In the end, people end up going their own direction to accomplish a goal, including writing about someone. And just as someone doing open heart surgery on a patient has to do so with a learned skill set, you have to care. You can have all the physical skills to complete a task, but you also have to care. It’s what makes any task successful.

I’m bummed that I’m not heading out to campus to meet the group. FaceTime will have to work to do this today. It’s a different world than when I was in school: Back then we did our guest speakers in person and they had unmatched credentials; Now, we do it on computers, and the speakers don’t really know shit.

I was never a headline writer

Let’s first acknowledge my dedication to the lunch time posts because I’m doing some brainstorming for a much more important story right now in Pages. Mark Twain, I think it was, said you gotta eat the ugly frog first, or something along those lines. What he meant was that the day was filled with tasks small and large, unimportant and important, and that you should always complete the most important tasks — the uglier frog — first. Alas, here I am.

I remember being in college (kind of) and being in the offices of the school newspaper and having the advisor say to me, “Try to give your article a headline” and being totally stumped. I’m the type of person who writes “whats up” as the title of an e-mail. I’m terrible at naming articles because I’m always inclined to write something pun-ny and awful. So coming up with titles for these posts is excruciating, even when I know what I want to write about.

I thought about going with the old “Lunch Time Thoughts: (and then the date)” but that’s boring. Here is what’s on my mind this afternoon:

  • My MacBook Pro (purchased in 2011) has been awful w/r/t battery life. In the course of this writing, it went from 19% to 10%. There’s no way I’m finishing this blog post before it runs out. Does anyone know why?
  • My son is ridiculous. I took him today to get his sixth month shots. He’s constantly smiling. He loves everyone and has a great personality. Then you take him to get needles stuck in his legs and he cries. It’s awful. Right? Oh wait. He doesn’t cry? He just quivers for a second and then wants to stand and smile again? I’m 34 and if I get a shot, I’m down for the count. I’m sore and cranky. Not Jack. He’s the man.
  • How much of Carolina’s Super Bowl run was a product of a shitty schedule? I’d say a good percentage of it. They’re awful. Cam Newton seems human. They can’t beat anyone. The argument was that they beat a couple teams in the playoffs, but look at who they beat: Seattle in one of their worst games (and they almost came back to win) and Arizona who seemed to peak the week prior. I never bought into the hype and I’m now sure I was right.
  • Dak Prescott is 5-1 and just beat Green Bay at Lambeau. There’s a bye week and then Romo could be ready to return. However, I feel like this much is true: There’s no QB controversy in Dallas. Prescott has to be their guy.
  • I’m not a baseball guy, but at least one friend and my wife always gives me shit come October when I suddenly care. Playoff baseball is great because the pitching is what drives a championship run. I don’t care about watching a three-game series in July when each team scores eight runs a night. I care about 2-1 games when each team has a combined seven hits. That’s baseball to me. That’s the type of game I want to watch, regardless of sport: a game played at the highest level and the stars step up like Kershaw did last night.
  • That said, I get why they’re putting the ALCS and NLCS on TBS and FS1, respectively. No wait, I don’t. Are that many people bummed about missing The Simpsons or re-runs of Burn Notice for a couple weeks in October? Jesus Christ, you can’t put these games on basic cable? I’m poor. I don’t have more than basic cable. I have to rely on unreliable streaming services. There are so many great, singular performances in playoff baseball that people like me miss out on because there’s a bottom line to be met. It sucks.
  • Ha! Made it. 5% battery life left. Back to the ugly frog.

Idealessness to Happiness; Read & Drink

Yesterday, I wrote about how I was sitting front of a computer with this thought that I would never have another idea ever again. This, again, is a thought I have from time to time. “This is it. I’m done. I’m out of ideas.” Being a writer is stupid. It really is. What a stupid career choice, right?

Anyway, got word on a couple checks, some free beer, some BBQ seasonings, another sold story, and some credentials yesterday. Pretty sweet gig, this writing thing. Amazing. This week seemed to last longer than it should have given it was long weekend and we had Monday off. I’m ready for a couple days in a row off.

Read; Drink.

If you’re a basketball fan, you gotta read Mark Titus on banning charges in The Ringer. I’ve been saying that charges are the worst type of defense a player can utilize for as long as I can remember. It’s bullshit that a smaller guy can just plant his feet, hold his nuts, make no play on the ball, and get a call. It’s a terrible form of defense to help on the weak side and just get pummeled intentionally. Titus agrees. And you should too.

If you’re a drinker and you’re in New England, it’s going to be cold this weekend and if you’re not opting for Rowan’s Creek bourbon then you should probably drink something big and dark like Stone Russian Imperial Stout. After that, go to bed early. Even better, do what I do and watch a documentary on Netflix that you remember zero percent of in the morning. Stone’s RIS is the best in the business, is a strange combination of complex and accessible, and easy to find.

Sophie Novak

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