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Tag: son of bold venture

Unchained…And Ya Hit the Ground Runnin'

Grantland, Bill Simmons’ on-line magazine, is open for business today.

Our pal Chris Jones has a piece on the Blue Jays and the Red Sox in the American League Beast:

Without ithout looking it up, I can tell you the night the Toronto Blue Jays won their first World Series — October 27, 1992 — because that was also the night I lost my virginity. I’m not nearly so sure of the night they won their second World Series. I was in college, watching the game in my dorm’s common room, on a TV that was suspended from the ceiling. When Joe Carter hit that home run off Mitch Williams to beat the Philadelphia Phillies, I jumped up and cracked my head on the TV, opening a dime-size hole in my scalp. It turns out that holes in your head bleed a lot. Somewhere, there is a picture of me still celebrating, late that night, drunk, mostly naked, and covered in dried blood. I’ll be forever glad that we did not yet live in the digital age.

That’s how important baseball was to me back then. I still have the Ken Burns Baseball catalogue on VHS; I once spent an entire summer making a paper model of Fenway Park, complete with a ball-marked Pesky’s Pole. But then a couple of fate-changing events took place. First, there was that whole no-longer-a-virgin thing. Before sex, something like Dave Stieb’s wobbly retirement — ignoring his brief resurrection six years later — would have qualified as a significant life event of my own. Now, it barely registered as a brief. And then baseball went on strike. I was sitting on a couch in a Mexican hotel room when everything stopped — those 14 words are how all stories of loss should begin — and I took it very much to heart. The girl who claimed my virginity later cheated on me, and baseball’s cold shoulder gave me the same feeling: I should have left you before you left me.

Last month, Jones wrote a blog post that relates to this piece. It is worth checking out.

Concise Writing is Vigorous Writing

Channeling the spirit of E.B. White, here’s Chris Jones with 20 things that should rarely, if ever, appear in your copy:

1. Is your name F. Scott Fitzgerald? [Edit: Or Gene Weingarten?] No? Then take your adverbs out back and shoot them in the head and bury them in lime.

2. Popular culture references, unless you’re writing about popular culture, in which case you should probably occasionally refer to popular culture, but only through your clenched teeth. The names Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Bilbo Baggins, and Lady Gaga should not appear in your copy unless you’re writing a story about three fictional characters and their chance encounter with a hobbit on a quest.

3. Any sentences that read as though they might have appeared in an academic text; therefore, “therefore” is not permitted. “Heretofore?” Get the f**k out.

Elbow Grease (and then some)

Our man Glenn Stout is the latest writer to be interviewed by Chris Jones over at Son of Bold Venture. I love this bit:

CJ: As either a writer or an editor, you’ve had a hand in more than eighty books. Your blog is called verbplow. I get the sense that you must treat words like work, like a more manual brand of labor—that during the course of most days, you must sit down and force yourself either to read or to write something. How do you make yourself do it?

Glenn Stout: That’s funny you ask about that because just the other day I had this realization that all the things I’ve ever really liked to do are activities that require me to use my hands and my brain simultaneously. You are right that in a sense I do see writing as manual labor, and the metaphor in verb plow is intentional, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valued, or necessarily laborious, because there is also that “labor of love” thing. I love doing what I do and can’t believe I get to do this every day. Growing up the idea of becoming a writer was unimaginable. We didn’t have a lot of money. My parents didn’t read much. Words saved me. They took me away, sent me to college, delivered my life. Now I get to mine the language every day, and talk and work with other writers—that’s dreamland stuff.

I don’t see my work as a chore, and only rarely does it feel forced—I want to do this and by now it’s all a part of my life, like breathing. I spent a number of years doing actual manual labor and I have to say I learned as much about writing from pouring concrete and hauling steel as I ever did in any workshop, or any course. Manual labor teaches you to work in increments, to maintain, to stick to things, to finish what you start, and that’s what I do. On a practical level, I’ve been on my own, completely independent as a writer, mostly working on projects that I think have real value, for almost twenty years. I’m not on the faculty somewhere, on the staff of some publication, or living off a trust fund. For every second of the last twenty-one years I’ve always had book contracts to fulfill and deadlines to hit and either I take that seriously or I’m done, out of work.

Serving as Series Editor for Best American Sports Writing is like a part-time job at minimum wage, and is only a small part of what I do. People assume I’m incredibly disciplined, and in their terms, maybe I am, but I’ve never understood writers who say that they write 2,000 words a day, like punching a clock. I mean, good for them, but I don’t work that way, I can’t be that rigid. I think every writer has to discover that what works for others might not work for you. For me it’s like the old Earl Weaver line: “This ain’t football; we do this every day.” A significant part of doing anything stems from getting up early and putting your ass in the chair every day, and I do that. The rest is experience—learning how not to sabotage yourself.

Right on, Big Dog. Or as Woody once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”

Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.

Chris Jones has another terrific post up at Son of Bold Venture:

I agonize over blog posts. I’ve sweat over single words in 5,000-word stories. Tonight, I spent ten minutes with an editor trying to wrestle an eight-word clause into place. I’m still not sure it’s right.

Before my best stories—even when I’m nearly sure they will be good, or at least should be good, because the material is there—my overwhelming feeling is, You’d better not f*** this up, stupid. My feeling is that if I somehow blow it, if I somehow fail these astronauts or dead soldiers, then I need to quit the business, never to write again. Because only a failure could fail people like that. Only someone like me could betray them.

And yet I keep writing. I’ve written something every day this year.

Reminds me of something William Faulkner once wrote:

As regards any specific book, I’m trying primarily to tell a story, in the most effective way I can think of, the most moving, the most exhaustive. But I think even that is incidental to what I am trying to do, taking my output (the course of it) as a whole. I am telling the same story over and over, which is myself and the world…I’m trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period. I’m still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead. I don’t know how to do it. All I know to do is to keep trying in a new way. I’m inclined to think that my material, the South, is not very important to me. I just happen to know it, and don’t have time in one life to learn another one and write at the same time. Though the one I know is probably as good as another, life is a phenomenon but not a novelty, the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing everywhere and man stinks the same stink no matter where in time.

None of this is easy. It’s not supposed to be easy, even for the great ones. The pernt is to show up and keep working.

The Man, Amen

Charles Pierce is the latest in Chris Jones’ compelling Five for Writing series:

At one point in one of the stories, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that he is related to a famous French painter named Vernet. Watson expresses surprise that Holmes is not a painter himself. “Art in the blood,” Holmes tells him, “takes the strangest forms.” My grandfather was a sign-painter and a landscape artist. One of his best hangs in my living room. His daughter, my mother, played piano in a saloon. I do what I do. Art in the blood takes the strangest forms.

Shouldn’t we find the art, or love, or whatever you want to call it, in everything that we do? From they way we look, and see things to how we treat people? From the work that we do–no matter what it is–to the way we cut an onion and prepare a meal. That’s why life is art and vice versa.

These are the Pros and Cons of Sports Writing


Over at Son of Bold Venture, Jeff Pearlman talks about his life as a writer:

About four years into my time at SI, though, I started getting a tiny bit itchy. I was Tom Verducci’s No. 2 on baseball, which was terrific. But… I don’t know what it was. The players were starting to get younger than I was. The clichés drove me crazy. I dreaded getting blown off so some guy could read his Field & Stream (true story). I went through the inevitable, “Is this as good as it gets?” Udall stage.

Seminal moment came in 2001. I was covering Game 4 of the World Series between the D-backs and Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Great night, amazing energy. Well, early on my stomach starts to hurt. I start cramping up, and I say to Verducci and Steve Cannella, “I’ve gotta go home.” We weren’t filing for that night (at least I wasn’t), so I left and took the train to the apartment I shared with my then-girlfriend/now-wife. The two of us sat on the couch and watched the game—this classic World Series thriller that came down to a 10th inning homer by Derek Jeter. And as I watched from afar, the fans going nuts, Jeter rounding the bases, the announcers screaming, all I could think was, “I’m so happy I’m not there right now.” That’s the 100% truth—I was thrilled to not deal with the crush; the clichés; the blather. And it was that moment when I officially started thinking about exiting SI. Because if you’re not sad to be missing Game 4 of the World Series, you need a change.

[Photo Credit: Gawker Media]

Was Watching

Over at Son of Bold Venture, Chris Jones offers some tips to young sports reporters, starting with no cheering in the press box.

[Image from the George Grantham Bain Collection]

Reading Between the Lines

Over at Pitchers and Poets, Eric Nusbaum picks up on the conversation started by Chris Jones and furthered in this space yesterday:

Jones, in his blog post, writes that “we are taught to believe that words have a value, a power, a weight.” I was lucky. I was taught by my father that for this very reason, words are to be dispensed with great care. If you can’t say something succinctly, don’t say it at all. Or as Ted reminds me sometimes when I send him drafts of long essays, “try harder.”

In this vein, we must all be careful not to use economy as a crutch. I know I have a tendency to do this. Instead of pushing an idea further, to the brink of collapse, I fall back on minimalism. The less you say, the less you are responsible for. This has mostly been an appreciation for Belth’s “power and beauty of restraint.” But I hope it can also be a warning to myself and to others: don’t use restraint as a tool for cheating. And don’t use it for gimmickry either.

When I was doing a lot of drawing, I had a linear style that bordered on minimalism. On one hand, I was interested in capturing gesture and feeling by indicating a figure with the fewest amount of lines possible. When it worked, as I think it does in the pictures here, I was pleased with the results. Eventually, though, I knew that I was cheating. I stopped looking at the subject, really looking, and let my hand do all the work. Then I’d get halfway through a drawing and stop. I’d fall in love with what I’d done and didn’t want to push myself, try harder. In other words, I became overly self-conscious, even precious, and the minimalism became an excuse to avoid failure.

I was more concerned with the finished product  than the process, and ultimately, I hit a dead end. Which reminds me of something an old friend once said, “If it’s easy, you aren’t doing it right.” At times, a drawing or a sentence will come easily, and that’s fine, but if the process becomes too easy, you are probably cheating.

The Power and Beauty of Restraint

Check out this fine post by Chris Jones at his blog, “Son of Bold Venture” (named after a horse in W.C. Heinz’s classic column, “Death of a Racehorse”).

Here’s Jones:

It’s probably the hardest lesson in writing: learning when you’ve already written enough.

We’re taught to believe that words have a value, a power, a weight. Logically, then, the more words, the better the sentence or paragraph or story. But writing isn’t always a logical exercise. Sometimes—most of the time—it’s about things that are harder to measure.

My editor, Peter—he will hate that I’m about to praise him in public—is one of the best in the business. He’s particularly good at carving the little excesses from a story that might either push it into sentimentality or turn the screw a little too hard. Because I’m often writing about emotional subjects, I’m especially dependent on Peter’s eye and knife. He just seems to know when even the smallest trim will serve the story. Peter understands restraint. He knows the value and power and weight of the words that aren’t there.

The older I get, the more I am drawn to restraint in cooking, moviemaking, music, and writing. It takes courage and discipline, not to mention confidence, to show restraint, to leave things out.

I e-mailed Glenn Stout, editor of the Best American Sports Writing series, about Jones’ post. He replied via e-mail:

Well, I’ve always thought it important to note that “In the beginning was the word…” Not “In the beginning was the words…” Although I wouldn’t necessarily say that more stories are ruined by underwriting rather than overwriting, because I see a lot of work in which the writer appears to have missed an opportunity, I will say that more ambitious stories could probably use more restraint. That’s one of the reasons I think that writers of any stripe should read poetry – it not only teaches tangible things like economy, sound and rhythm, but it also teaches that the negative space in writing – what’s not there, and the heartbeat of recognition that takes place over the empty space at the end of a line or a phrase – is as important as what is on the page. The way we connect with a piece of writing is how our brain fills in the blanks.

It’s like backing away from a painting rather than standing too close.

I understand negative space when it comes to painting, like in Giorgio Morandi’s wonderful still life pictures, but have only recently come to appreciate it in writing as well. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy expressionists, just that I am more drawn to writers like Heinz and Pat Jordan, Elmore Leonard and Pete Dexter.

My pal John Schulian also sent the following e-mail:

The interesting thing about this is that Chris Jones writes with such restraint in the first place. For him to go public with a confession that even he needs an editor to keep his prose from going over the edge is truly remarkable. And instructive. Every writer caves in to his worst instincts sooner or later. Problem is, not every writer has an editor as sharp as Jones’s Peter (I assume he means Peter Griffin, Esquire’s deputy editor). Also, not every editor is working with a writer as wonderful as Chris Jones. Not that the wonderful-ness of a writer would stop some editors from screwing up their prose. But the trims that Peter made were as artful and restrained as what Jones wrote. They eliminated the unnecessary and, just as important, preserved the rhythm of Jones’ prose. Peter heard the music and left no fingerprints, and that, perhaps, is the ultimate proof of his artistry as a line editor. No wonder Jones saluted him.

It is not easy to find a good editor. Jones has it good and seems to know it. Perhaps the most instructive book I’ve read about editing is Susan Bell’s “The Artful Edit.” It’s an essential guide for me and rests next to “The Elements of Style” on my night table. Bell uses the relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor Maxwell Perkins throughout her text.

Dig this one example from “The Great Gatsby.” First, from a rough draft:

They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just blown in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments on the threshold, dazzled by the alabaster light, listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.

And then revised for the the final version:

They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.

Fitzgerald dropped “dazzled by the alabaster light…” a vivid, but ultimately, distracting flourish. Man, you’ve got to be ruthless to murder your darlings. It is nothing short of inspiring when the great talents have the conviction to do just that.

[Painting by Girogio Morandi]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver