Some thoughts on writing

A few people have asked me how I learned to write so well. What’s your secret? Where do you come up with all this stuff? Why don’t you write a book? 

Well, first of all, I don’t consider myself a good writer. If I was, I would be getting paid for it. I do appreciate the compliments, though. It is certainly something I enjoy. I do consider myself a prolific writer. I have written quite a lot on this blog over the past few years (over 200,000 words) and I can’t even imagine how much stuff I’ve written in my life.

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To start, I had good teachers. And I read a lot. My sixth grade English teacher actually made us log our reading hours every night, and have a parent (or guardian) sign off on it. And sure, I could have lied and probably gotten away with it, but I inherited a terrible conscious, so I couldn’t just do that. So I would read – every night – and I would write down exactly how much I read – every night – and after awhile it just became routine to spend my nights reading something. I was also, and continue to be, profoundly curious about this world. So that helped too.

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People view writing as a chore. I happen to disagree. But I understand the mindset.

Back when I played baseball in middle school, we used to run as punishment. Missed practice? Run. Made a mental error?* Run. Insulted the umpire?** Run. This is true in most sports – if you screw up, you run.

*Thankfully this didn’t apply to physical errors. Because I made a lot of them. I was good at keeping score, though.

**We had some pretty terrible umpires.

And then I stopped playing baseball and started, well, running. There were no punishments in cross country, other than running more. And, eventually, I started liking it, I liked the competitiveness of the races, the bluish haze of an early morning meet, the way your body felt after running three, four, five miles. It never became easy, running is never easy, but it didn’t hurt as much.

And when you are really committed to something, even if the thing is hard, then it shouldn’t hurt anymore. It’s no longer a punishment, it’s a reward, an accomplishment. It becomes a hobby.

Anyway, that’s how I feel about writing.

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I have always been a proponent of the oxford comma.

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This was a sentence from a paper I wrote in high school*:

Through Laura Wingfield’s character, Tennessee Williams represents a fragile woman brutalized by life in a newly industrialized society for which Romantics in the early nineteenth century felt escalating sympathy.

I don’t even know what that means.

There are obviously many different ways to make a point, but I think good writing is about making your point as simply as possible. Big words, superfluous statements – they don’t add anything.

*The paper was about The Glass Managerie, which as I’m sure you know is a Tennessee Williams play from 1944.

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I used to love the semi-colon. I would use it in place of periods, in place of commas, and it eventually became the only form of punctuation I would use.

I don’t use semi-colons anymore.

**

I never put two spaces after a period. This borders treason.

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I have tried to mimic the styles of many different writers. I first noticed this when I read Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Snicket used a lot of hyphens and asides and he would routinely break the fourth wall. I started doing this in essays before realizing that, uh, trying to break the fourth wall in a sixth grade paper is not a good idea.

When I read Harry Potter, I started using British words and would actually write my papers in a British accent.

When I read John Grisham, I began introducing legal proceedings to my papers.

I read Roger Ebert and suddenly I wanted to review every classic movie.

And then there are the great sportswriters – Joe Posnanski and Tom Verducci and Pat Jordan and Roger Angell. I have taken something from each of them. The asterisks that have become a staple on this blog? That’s from Posnanski. The style of my interviews? That’s from Jeff Pearlman. I don’t plagiarize, of course, but I do stand on the shoulders of giants and try to turn their style into my own. As I’ve said before, everything is a remix.

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Sometimes I will write a really long sentence, a sentence that is at best a run-on and at worst a rambling steam-of-consciousness, and I will really milk that sentence for all it is worth, and maybe there will actually be something of value in there, and then I will follow with a really short sentence. Just like this.

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Here are some things I used to write about:

– The New Jersey Marowaks, a baseball team I created when I was nine*. I would write books on the team, and I would make up players and stats, and I kept this going until about 2004. In my room at home, I have an entire drawer dedicated to the Marowaks.

*Eventually I created a whole league. Let’s see if I can still name all of the teams.

EAST

New Jersey Marowaks
New York Youngs
Florida Manatees
Vermont Mountaineers
Boston Birds

CENTRAL

Michigan Toonamis
Detroit Silverlakes
Minnesota Greatlakes
Cleveland Firebirds
Kansas City Tornadoes

WEST

California Eighties
Montana Condores
Phoenix Stars
Denver Mountains

Yep, still got it.

– My sister and I created a fake family, and I would write stories about them. See if you can spot the trend – there was Please, the main character. The mother was Your Welcome. The father was Manners. And the sister was Thank You (Please also had a friend named Marney). Please and Marney would go out on these ridiculous adventures and save the world. I’m not kidding when I tell you I wrote an eight part saga that spanned pretty much all of my middle school years.

– I created a comic, Two Toes and Fatboy. Two Toes was just a guy who wanted to sit on his couch and watch TV. Fatboy was his (fat) friend who would constantly invade Two Toes’ house and start shenanigans.

– Our fifth grade teacher used to have us write weekly short stories and then present them to the class. Man, those were fun. I still remember some of the topics: getting locked in school, time traveling to historic baseball games, kidnapping George Bush’s pimple cream (yes, I wrote a story about that), burping disease, meeting God. Just some outrageous stuff for a fifth grader.

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And so you may ask yourself how I find the time to write in this space or why I write about some absolutely random, inane topics, and the truth is that I’ve always done this. Now I just do it in a slightly more public spotlight. This blog has taken over as my loose-leaf paper. It certainly beats the eraser marks.

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