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Stories That Have Broken You

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Jones, Feb 18, 2008.

  1. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    So, here I sit, my eyes turned into little rectangles, oddly reminiscent of a laptop screen, having just finished the first draft of a story that's consumed me for months now.

    I've busted my ass on it, thought about it at night when I should have been sleeping, ignored my wife when she was talking to me when I was working on it, spent less time with my boy than I should have. The end of all that is 19,773 words that I can't even imagine reading through again right now, but as you might have guessed, this beast needs an edit.

    Worse than being unable to think of an edit, though, I can't really wrap my head around working on another story, like, ever again. I mean, of course, I'll write more stories (either that, or I'll have to give up eating and living under a roof, and probably my marriage), but right now, I feel spent. Like, in a kind of French coma, where my body is frozen but my mind's still racing.

    I'm worried that every other story I work on will feel slight and meaningless; I'm worried that my editor will hate this one and that he'll ask me to take another run at it, and that I'll run and jump off a bridge instead; I'm worried that I won't be able to muster the energy again to report properly or to write properly.

    In short, I'm worried this story's broken me.

    And because I'm selfish, I want to hear your stories about the stories that broke you -- the story you thought would be something that wasn't, the story that got away, the story that the competition slapped you goofy with, the story that made you want to quit your job and become a bartender. I'm talking absolute horror shows that you're still not over, because that will make me feel better. Like I said, I'm selfish.

    Bleed for me, people. This is your chance to let it all out.
     
  2. Piotr Rasputin

    Piotr Rasputin New Member

    I think we've all done a few longform stories that we do NOT want to look at when we finish. I never thought of a difficult story or challenging story as a possible "breaking" point.

    Nearing 30 years old, covering a high school gymnastics meet, earning every penny of your $25,000 a year paycheck . . . now THAT'S a story, a moment, that just breaks you.
     
  3. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    Holy hell, Piotr, that's almost too depressing. You've cheered me up only a little bit.
     
  4. Jay Stone

    Jay Stone New Member

    I wrote one two or three years ago about a football player whose dad committed suicide before the team's big rivalry game. It was, as you might imagine, devastating to the family, and it was extremely emotionally raw, and it turned out pretty well, but it's the one story I've written that I've truly worried about the impact on the subject. It was a fairly long piece, and I worked on it about five times longer than most of the stuff I write, and the emotions of it rubbed off. I pitched it to them as a chance to possibly help someone else going through a similar trauma, and hopefully it did, but I wonder if the public exposure did the subject more harm than good. It wasn't a piece you write just for the paycheck, and at the end of it, you wonder if this work is really worth it.

    I don't know that I'd say it broke me, but I was emotionally spent for a while afterward.
     
  5. ServeItUp

    ServeItUp Active Member

    Rasputin's second graf nails it for me, to a point. I just got broken when there was a potential coaching change on the college beat I covered, and I got scooped. The competition turned out to be completely dead wrong but I never wanted to have that feeling again. No longer did I want to get a call from my ME asking me why the fuck I didn't have that story while I stumble for a lame-assed response. Rather than working harder to develop sources and get in good with my beat, I decided a change had to be made.

    I went to the desk. I'm still in the business and working against a deadline but I'm not doing legwork on off hours. I'm not tethered to the beat by electronic means. And I have my time to myself again.

    I miss the longform, Jones. I loved doing that stuff, telling stories, pulling heartstrings. But it was the grind of a demanding beat that broke me to a point from which I still haven't recovered.

    Keep your chin up. I know you'll get through it and I look forward to reading the end result.
     
  6. Flash

    Flash Guest

    In a completely different direction, the story that broke me was an obituary.

    Hell, I'd done the obituaries before ... a soccer coach who lost his battle with cancer just a few months after the season ended. Then there was the figurative one ... the coach who got canned and I threw a 15-hour day into the stories, only to end up in a ball of tears on my kitchen floor when it was all said and done.

    But the one that got me ... the one that made me walk away from a keyboard for a week was for a 16-year-old boy.

    Just a couple months earlier, we had sat in a dressing room, laughing, smiling and talking about the future he was going to have in the WHL. He was six-foot-five, had a helluva shot, was a little weak on his blades, but goddamn if he wasn't spending the entire summer working on his skating.

    He spent the weekend at a lacrosse tournament. The team got knocked out early and he was home for the Canada Day celebrations. He walked downstairs and collapsed in a heap at his mother's feet.

    I pulled my shit together, wrote the story and, I hope, left it all on the pages for people to read.

    The only thing that pulled me back into reality was going to the funeral. It was held in an ice rink. No church in this city was going to hold all the people that wanted to pay their respects to this kid. His coffin sat where centre ice would be during hockey season.

    And as the thousand or so of us filed past, there was a table set up. It was covered with clippings from newspapers -- some I had written.

    I finally learned on that day that the stories we write touch people. Our words can mean something to them. And what we do matters.

    I try to remember that every time I touch a keyboard now.
     
  7. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Well, there was this novel....a bunch of anonymous pals got together and decided to each take chapters....maybe get the thing published one day...and....and....God, I'm sorry, I still can't talk about it. 8)

    My just-kill-me story was my own fault....agreed to collaborate on a book with a jerk who said he REALLY wanted to do the book. (Lesson #1, never trust anyone who doesn't know the difference between 'writing' a book and 'doing' a book.) Spent a couple months and a couple grand of my own money travelling to write a proposal (Lesson #2, never trust a sports agent with a sweater tied around his shoulders who says 'You don't trust me??) The book was sold, started work while waiting for contracts...which can easily take a couple of months (Lesson #3 therein.)

    I was about 30,000 words and several thousand bucks into the process when the player decided not to do the book...just didn't sign the contracts. Never called to say sorry, thanks, take care....I heard it from the publisher. Ran into the agent a couple months later at an All-Star game, he had a good laugh about the whole thing, and then asked if my tits were real. (Lesson #4, tell 'em your tits are real at your first meeting, just get it out of the way.)

    I'm going to go pour some lemon juice on this paper cut now. Thanks.

    ps---Jones, somewhere in your semi-consciousness, you know you wrote something good. Go play with your son and get some sleep.
     
  8. Screwball

    Screwball Member

    Flash:

    That's a horrible story ... although you can be proud you did such a wonderful job sharing this kid's life that the family chose to share your story with everyone at the funeral.

    BTW, what happened to the kid? Why did he collapse?
     
  9. Dave Kindred

    Dave Kindred Member

    Jones, you know, and I know, that this, too, shall pass. As it happens, I'm reminded of that even now while studying up on Hemingway.

    "Been working every day and going good. (He's writing to Malcolm Cowley.) Makes a hell of a dull life too. But it is more fun than anything else. Do you remember how old (Ford Madox) Ford was always writing how (Joseph) Conrad suffered so when he wrote? How it was un metier du chien (a dog's trade) etc. Do you suffer when you write? I don't at all. Suffer like a bastard when don't write, or just before, and feel empty and fucked out afterwards. But never feel as good as while writing."

    And 21's sad tale reminds me of an "autobiography" I did with an athlete. It included a chapter on the athlete's next wife, who, of course, turned out to be less than the next wife; only I didn't write the chapter, nor did the athlete write it, SHE wrote it and I read it only when the book was published. The athlete explained, "I couldn't stop her." Their fairy-tale romance, as told in the book, ended within six months of publication. As I have said many times in explaining why I'll never again do an as-told-to, "It was like studying from childhood to be an architect -- and then building a doghouse."

    Empty and fucked out -- but not in a good way!
     
  10. Rosie

    Rosie Active Member

    A few years back, in our fairly idyllic area, there was a double murder. The last murder in this particular town had happened back in 1930 or somewhere around there.

    The day it happened, I was off. I brought my son back to the grade school after his dentist appointment, saw the squad cars a block from school and figured there must have been a drug bust -- something which was the talk of the cafe when I stopped to have a cup of coffee.

    I think it was about an hour later when I got the call about what really happened, and it wasn't pretty.

    The front page story took forever to write, I had to keep walking away from it. I had nightmares for almost a year and I still hate driving by that house --this horrible picture appears in my mind of the dead man with his head duct-taped.
     
  11. joe

    joe Active Member

    Bled, yes. Will bleed again, yes. Bleed every day, yes. Because of the fear that keeps me from writing what I should, the fear that keeps me silenced. Every story I write these days is like birth, and the pain most often is something I'm not willing to bear.

    Jonesy, we all bleed. In our own specific ways.

    Be well.
     
  12. forever_town

    forever_town Active Member

    I don't know if anything I've done yet has broken my will.

    I can think of a couple of things that have tested my resolve. Last week's using the wrong hede over a story was a pretty big downer and one that will take me a while to get over.

    However, writing a column in which I accused and convicted someone of being a thief without his being formally charged with a crime made me wonder if my journalism career was going to end prematurely. Again. And permanently. I can think of three or four weeks where I wondered when the boss was going to lower the hammer on me.

    Those are the times that try men's souls. I can't say any longform journalism piece ever has. In my relatively brief career, 1,300 words is the longest story I've ever written.
     
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