Column: Working with words requires write stuff

The longer you do it, the better you get — and no matter how old you are, you can always get better. Never will you hit a ceiling where you reach ultimate perfection. You are limited only by your own creativity.

Facing that challenge is one of the joys of writing.

And so, after all these years, my love affair with writing continues. Each day I love it more than the day before, it seems. That absolutely amazes me.

I’ve heard it said that some writers hate writing, and that always puzzled me because I certainly never felt that way. I mean, of course there are those times when you may not be feeling well or you may be exhausted and the last thing in the world you feel like doing at that moment is write, but you push through because of an approaching deadline. Those are the rare exceptions, though. For me, writing is an utter joy.

I suppose this is my ode to writing.

I have covered sports for most of my professional life, and the two questions young people ask me most often are: How many stories have you written? (answer: an awful lot) and What are your favorite sports to write about? (answer: I like variety).

The truth is, it’s not the sport that matters to me;it’s the story.

Hard news, features, columns. I love it all.

That sense was reinforced back in mid-March when my sportswriting took a back seat to news writing. With high school sports on indefinite hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have, at least temporarily, become a news reporter again. The title “SPORTS EDITOR” under my byline and my email signature may have caused some confusion among those wondering why a sports editor is writing a story about a Greek Orthodox priest recovering from a life-threatening bout with coronavirus or interviewing an oncologist about working with cancer patients during the height of the pandemic.

The truth is, a story is a story, whether you’re writing about a centerfielder, a doctor or a businessman. It’s all about telling a story in an informative and, hopefully, entertaining way.

Just to get a sense of how hooked I am on writing, think about this: Several years ago I had to take two weeks off from work to undergo a hernia operation. Doctor’s orders. Basically, that meant resting at home for two weeks and taking a daily walk. It also meant no writing for two weeks.

So, the first week of recovery goes by fine. By the second week, though, I found myself missing writing badly. Badly. I was reading stories in The New York Times and saying to myself, “Boy, I bet that article was fun to write.”

Pathetic, I know.

On my first day back to work (I covered a game that day), I was buzzing with enthusiasm.

One of the benefits, I’d say, of covering sports is it tends to allow more room for creativity than, say, hard news. Sports reporters are accustomed to “featurizing” stories and writing on a tight deadline. That doesn’t faze them. They’re used to that.

The actual writing process can be surprisingly quick, given all the preparation that goes into it. Consider this: I show up at a venue, say an hour before game time to talk to coaches and players and do prep work. The actual game takes two or three hours to play. Afterward, there’s another 30 minutes or so of interviews, etc.

Once interviews have been transcribed and game statistics are in front of me, that’s when the real fun begins: It’s time to write!

Some good thought must be put into the most important part of the story — the lede (the start of a story). And once that’s written, fingers really fly, banging away on the keyboard. Before I know it, 700 words are on my computer screen. I can sense when I’m approaching 700 words, the typical word count for our game stories. It’s as if that figure is programmed in my head.

The actual writing, my favorite part, goes by fast — sometimes too fast, I think. When I am finished, though, and I feel like I’ve done my best and am happy with the final product, the satisfaction is oh so sweet.

It’s sort of a fleeting rush, but there’s nothing like working with words to produce the write stuff.