Every month or so, I get a direct message on Twitter, asking me how I got my start in writing. How exactly did I find my way to this point in my life?
Please, don’t think I am banging my own drum here. It’s all part of the story, as a wise person once said way before I was born (I think, checking facts and sources). It’s my way of telling you that almost every time, I tell this person that you need to get on the internet and get started. Start writing and don’t stop.
Yeah, this isn’t one of those fitness and health videos, where this muscle-bound inflated Zac Efron figure keeps saying, “all you need to know are these three simple things.” It’s those three simple fucking things that he will withhold for another 5-25 minutes while you fall asleep in a chair. Forget that. I’ll tell you how I got my start. It was an English laundromat where words are pressed daily, and oh I kid.
WordPress. July of 2011. The day Colby Rasmus was traded, I was working at a warehouse called Senoret Chemical. Located in Kirkwood at the old Ashley Furniture warehouse location, it was just an ordinary day. The Cardinals weren’t looking that great, and they made a big trade with Toronto, bringing to town the future Cardinal Hall of Famer, Randal Grichuk–and a guy named Octavio Dotel who made Ryan Braun look like a little leaguer. Anyway, I wrote something about it on my lunch break, pounding a keyboard as hard as one could on a truck dock (packing 60 skids onto a single truck is so much fun, let me tell you). It published, and I was scared shitless to be honest.
Back then, Facebook and Twitter were around, but not as popular or worldwide powerful yet. So you would release an article into the dark abyss of the internet and just wait. And wait. Maybe wait some more for some reaction. I had previously written epic email blasts to friends who somehow didn’t delete every single one of them. Arduous efforts for a potential reward. That’s internet writing and journalism these days-but back then there weren’t 100 different fan pages or sites to post your articles. You put them out there and waited.
Eventually, a guy named Daniel Shoptaw came calling, regrettably making the decision to put my words on Cards Conclave, which was the charter site of Shoptaw’s larger Cardinal Nation network, United Cardinal Bloggers. I owe a large debt of gratitude to Shop for putting the ball in play for me to go track down. He’s done that for countless bloggers, both far and wide across this country.
Other sites followed. John Nagel recruited me to write for the esteemed Cardinals Farm, which sported content at every level. Corey Rudd gave me the reins at STL Sports Minute, which I eventually used to find hidden online talent like Kyle Reis and Josey Curtis, as well as Geno “CRASH” Bonds and many other guest writers. Now wait a minute. I didn’t really discover those lovely people. Just gave them a place to leave words on the Cards.
Rudd would eventually help me out in another big way. He had written for KSDK News, and his contact there was Jordan Palmer-a man who I now call a friend, colleague, and someone I have contributed to three different websites for. After a few false starts and a couple stoppages, I started writing full-time (for a freelancer at least) for KSDK. Sports, entertainment, food thoughts, random personal stories, flashy late actor obits, whatever came into my brain and found the publishing passcode in the Tegna CMS. You can find thousands of articles from me over Tegna’s countless affiliates. Last week, I found an article of mine on USA Today Idaho weekly. No shit.
Writing for St. Louis Game Time was a thrill. Getting into the paper was an accomplishment, but I’ve made the most noise on the SB Nation website. Powered by Vox Media, your content is delivered more resourcefully throughout the internet. Laura was my editor, and she never got in the way of something I wanted to write-even if my hand got slapped elsewhere on a few occasions. It’s a place where you can combine writing and sports fan speech (aka profanity) into something people really enjoy reading.
I didn’t break the bank there or at KSDK. Money trucks aren’t pulled up for good writing, at least not anymore. Can your article generate clicks? What if people stop clicking? The first harsh lesson of online writing is understanding not everyone cares what you care about. I doubt half of my followers consume movies the way I do, with yellow notepads on a table and a note app open on my phone. I’m a film detective, especially on rewatches. So, you start to learn which articles are for you and which are for the audience. Hopefully, they merge eventually or at least share a neighborhood. But every writer in the world has been forced to write about something they really don’t want to, so they can make more money. It’s called survival.
In 2019, Show Me St. Louis gave me the opportunity to join Lexi Brown for a movie segment, which continues to this day. And here’s the second harsh lesson about online writing/television: You won’t always get paid to do it. Am I paid to do Show Me directly? Nope. But it could lead to something big, so I keep plugging away and putting my face and name in front of people. If you stay in someone’s way, they won’t forget about you.
This year, things went up a notch. As a man told Paul Newman in the classic, Nobody’s Fool:
“Sully, when your luck turns, it turns.”
My luck turned in a big way, even if my knees still hurt. Palmer, who had recently joined STL Jewish Light, recruited me for their team, making more money than KSDK News has ever paid me to write. Think about that. A non-profit website going big on a writer instead of a large corporation. Welcome to 2021.
These days, I write for a variety of websites, keeping my irons in the fire, as Craig Mish would advise me to do. Few writers get to write for one outlet. I don’t know what that’s
like. Here’s how my writing process goes. I get an idea, and the only hesitation happens when I choose where it posts. These days, getting paid is a premium, but still not a necessity. Once again, the internet isn’t built for non-college graduates or walk-ons.
I can tell you the reason I will be passed over for The Athletic job: I don’t have a college degree.
Question: Why is a college degree the end all/be all for people who want to be journalists or writers? Who made that rule? We aren’t building planes and saving lives here, at least not to a countable stat. Someone’s world will not end tomorrow if I take the night off. But why is it all or nothing? Why can’t writers be paid for their writing and not just for content? I heard changing rules can be fun. Level the playing field. Don’t make it JUST a college degree or no college degree. Make it part of the package. If not, why ask for a cover letter and resume if it doesn’t even matter? You’re looking at that anyway, so just pick up your stamper and stamp my papers already.
My advice to young writers is simple, but not in the headline. The headline bridge is lesson #3: Don’t tell them the whole story in the headline, but make sure they see enough to give you more of their time, and immediately.
Young writers with or without a college degree, get on the internet and start writing. Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Just keep writing. Your site, their site, a friend’s website, or an enemy’s website: Just do it already. WordPress, Medium, Blogger, give it a name. Get on Facebook and Twitter immediately. If that’s not your thing, you won’t make it today. Sorry. Branch out and open up, and do it quickly. This isn’t 1998. The internet is saturated with takes, too many of them “hot.” That’s Lesson #4: Please don’t aim for the hot take. Aim for what you think and build an argument around it. Yes, those two things are different. Trust me. I’ve spent a few nights in “Endless Hot Take” hotel, and it just gets tiring after a while. It’s like doing a radio ad for a place you think sucks. Imagine me talking about Denny’s:
“You’ve reached the minor league equivalent of breakfast food, people. There’s the rusty too-tight helmet that will give you a headache at the plate, aka our omelets. The dented, sad, don’t worry about choking up, it’s already small aluminum bat, aka our Grand Slam platter. At our place, you can keep your soul, but your stomach and toilet paper are coming with us.” Puke.
Just put yourself out there. People like to know the writer whose words they are attempting to trust. Keep writing. Make contacts. Keep an eye out for openings. Make a good resume, but make the experience on that sheet stand out more than the design and font choice. These days, the story is the same as it was back when I published that Colby Rasmus trade commentary. Start writing, and don’t stop-because they’re not looking at you.
But remember this. You can do this. Yeah, you can do it. Just dig your feet in the ground, don’t be afraid of your opinion, and defend your take like you would the last gold bar on Earth. You’re reading words on the internet from a guy who tried two colleges and missed, wrote articles in hot warehouses, and scribbled hurried notes during an Uber shift while parked out Tin Roof. You will have to find multiple ways to keep going. It’s hard, but possible-and there’s little guarantee. That’s the truth.
If you made it to the end, my chihuahua will validate your parking.
One thought on “My advice to young writers”
It’s so true that there’s no guarantee in writing. The only thing you can do is keep going, but those who are dead set on their writing dreams won’t need us to tell them that anyway. Thanks for this post!