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Can you lose it?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Joe Williams, Dec 8, 2009.

  1. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Active Member

    Saw this on a different thread, and it got me to thinking:

    The analogy makes me wonder, can we lose our "best stuff" over time? Is it inevitable? Sportswriting isn't based on physical strength or stamina to any serious degree, yet maybe there is a prime or a sweet spot for the average writer's career.

    Is it more likely to come early, when you're young, full of energy for travel and late nights and long work days, and the stuff you're covering is relatively new to you so you're fresher? Probably it's easier to be passionate about sports then, since your perspective in life hasn't broadened as much to include mortgages, kids' college funds, credit-card debt, aging parents, retirement, health insurance and impending death.

    Yet accumulating more and more experience and sources and wisdom, while being exposed to more and better writing and actually having something weightier to say ... I would expect that to be part of a writer's prime, too.

    So is it one of those things where you can be good-different, just not good in the same way you were?

    I'm not talking about when you reach a point where you're mailing it in, which seems to be most of the criticism about Reilly. In those cases, you've decided to define your prime as something that's over, rather than having it decided for you naturally.
  2. Small Town Guy

    Small Town Guy Well-Known Member

    I definitely think so and you'd just have to look at the greats. Just take SI. Dan Jenkins, Frank Deford. Curry Kirkpatrick. Mark Kram. Reilly. Maybe even Gary Smith, who I still drop everything to read when I see a new story in SI, but when I think of Smith's most famous and best stories, there's a 10-year period there in the 90s that includes most of them. At a certain point they no longer have the same thing they had in their primes, which I'd guess is in middle-age, when you've learned from the mistakes you made when younger and have found the perfect voice, plus still have the drive and ambition and everything else that plays into it.

    Not that it's unique to sportswriters. Gay Talese. Tom Wolfe. Hunter S. Thompson. Hell, Hemingway.

    Although, after just watching Reilly on ESPN talk about Tiger, he's practically gone Steve Blass at this point.
  3. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Good thread. I think I lost it over the last year, what middling ability there was. The biz had a lot to do with it, I was a freelancer that lost some work due to the economy and all of a sudden had to beat the bushes for work a lot more than I had in previous years. By the time I got the gigs, I was too mentally fried to write well.

    Got a new, stable gig recently, and as I told my wife at the time, now I'm in a position to get "it" back. I think some of my best work is still waiting to come out; it definitely wasn't when I was young, because I just hadn't seen/read/done enough. Did some great stuff right before the economy took those opportunities away, and it took me a while to get over the bitterness from that.

    YGBFKM Guest

    I think great writers, like great musicians, just run out of innovative ways to express themselves.
  5. cyclingwriter

    cyclingwriter Active Member

    Sadly, a lot of guys lose it and never come close to getting it back. I like to think my writing and reporting are a lot better than they were 10 years ago, but I wasn't that good 10 years ago either. However, I know I have days where I am more passionate than others, which usually has to do with what I am covering or what interviews I have done.
  6. Babs

    Babs Member

    I think you lose it when you lose your natural curiosity. Too much of the same thing over and over is bound to bore you over time. It's part of the reason moving to a new beat is so refreshing.
  7. That is a fantastic way to sum it up.
  8. SixToe

    SixToe Active Member

    Yes, definitely.

    Writers can become complacent, comfortable and throw in a few zingers that aren't zingy, instead of bleeding through their fingertips like "the old days."

    The challenge is to find a subject or style, or possibly a new position at the paper, to get the spark turned into a flame again.
  9. BTExpress

    BTExpress Well-Known Member

    Never forget that a HUGE part of this equation is how YOU are seeing the writers.

    Let's say you're a kid in the 1970s, about 14 or 15, aspiring to become a sportswriter while your hormones are raging.

    You're looking at SI, and you are overwhelmed.

    "Wow! That story by Deford is amazing!"
    "Wow! That swimsuit edition is amazing!"

    Thirty years later, the swimsuit edition does not hold the magic it once had, even though there are more photos, more models, less fabric. By all measurable criteria, the edition is much better than anything in the 70s. But to you it's "Yawn, nothing really new here."

    Does the same metric hold true for the writers? Are they really not writing as well as you remember . . . or was the writing just more magical in your mind the first few times you saw it? Or maybe a little of both.
  10. spud

    spud Member

    Maybe for some. Assuming I'm not alone, I had no attachment to this field until college, and I can easily see when a career tails off into oblivion without being clouded by childhood nostalgia. Reilly is certainly a prime example.

    It's not just sports writers either, writers in general deal with this problem. I worry about it daily. Everybody hits their creative peak at some point, some peaks are simply higher than others. I constantly worry that I've already reached mine. Maybe that's the dangling carrot that keeps you from quitting on yourself, I don't know. I just hope on a regular basis that my peak/nadir gap doesn't rival Reilly's... or Kerouac's for that matter. What the hell is Satori in Paris? Utter garbage.
  11. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    I don't know. My writing is better now. My copy is cleaner. I'm less likely to take a literary leap, that will only cause me to plummet to my doom. My writing is more sophisticated, and I mean that in the sense of I don't think I need 100 words when 10 words will do. I can also plug in background and details gathered from my years of experience that I wouldn't have had before, or if I had tried, I would have likely gotten in wrong.
    Do I want to spend hours chasing a detail for a story? No and in that, you understand why youth is wasted on the young. Sometimes it depends on the story, but as you get older, you realize that not everything will be a homerun, but you can make a living hitting doubles and triples on a consistent basis.
  12. spud

    spud Member

    I'm sorta like the Craig Biggio of the sports writing universe.
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