February. No football, no baseball, my school’s basketball team is almost exactly average, my professional basketball team is led by a flat-earther with the heart of an amoeba, there’s not a must see movie on the horizon, the hockey season doesn’t really start until the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I’m heartily sick of running in shorts one glorious Thursday and cowering indoors the next when it’s zero in the sun.
So, February, when thoughts turn toward writing.
If you missed it – or never heard of it for that matter – I highly recommend HBO’s Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists. Even if you didn’t read Breslin’s Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game in junior high, or flip open Pete Hamill’s column on the train on the way to Con Law, it’ll hit home. If for nothing else than a history lesson on the origin of ‘fake news.’ (Hint: it wasn’t the guy planning a big July 4th). Anyway, it’s pretty much a primer on how to write – under pressure, while trying to find a hook because everyone else is writing about the exact same thing at the exact same time.
This is the place where you say, “Huh, not unlike every family law firm in my state writing about [your state’s statute number for custody goes here].
Jimmy Breslin was one of the hundreds and hundreds of reporters assigned to cover JFK’s funeral in 1963. How do you find something different to write about a funeral that everyone else is attending? Breslin left D.C. and trekked over to Arlington National Cemetery to interview the African-American man digging JFK’s grave. The result was, of course, one of the great pieces of American journalism.
About halfway through there’s also a great piece of writing advice. Tom Wolfe described how he joined the New York World Herald Tribune in the early and was given free rein to ‘write like Jimmy.’ A bit confused, and a lot intimidated, he went to his editor one day and asked, “Okay, so how long should my column be?”
The answer, “Well, of course, you write until it’s boring.”