Monday, July 28, 2014

Just write, that's what we do

        A friend ask me last week how I remembered all the events and the facts and the stories that are part of the pieces I write these days.
        I don't.
        That's why we have reference material. That's why I've kept clippings and memorabilia all these years. I never imagined writing a blog -- what the heck is that? -- after I retired from work in my mid 60s, but now that I'm doing just that, I'm glad to be able to look up what my memory can't find.
        Plus, if you're dealing in facts, you strive to be accurate. I've got a pretty good memory, but it's not infallible. Sometimes I'm just wrong ... loud wrong.
        An example: Robert Newhouse died last week, the often-unsung running back/blocking back from Hallsville, Texas, the University of Houston and -- as most of us remembered him -- the Dallas Cowboys.
         For years, I have been telling people that Newhouse was one of the stars of the U. of Houston team that demolished Tulane 47-7 in the 1973 Bluebonnet Bowl, which I covered at the Astrodome in Houston.
          So imagine my surprise when I read in Newhouse's obit that he was a senior at Houston in the 1971 season and joined the Cowboys in 1972. 
          Thank you, faulty memory.
          I'm writing this because my friend mentioned in the first paragraph was impressed with the piece I wrote last week on Terry Rice, a big man we went to high school with, a one-time football hero who died in mid-July, 100 days after surgery for pancreatic cancer.
          The family did not do a formal obit for newspaper or funeral-home publication, so my friend suggested that I write about the man and tie it into the old Woodlawn High football days.
          I did not post that piece on my blog; I sent it only to the people with Woodlawn ties who I knew would be interested. They were, as a friend of mine in Knoxville likes to say, "my target audience."
          Sad as it was, I enjoyed writing the article because I didn't have to look up a lot; I knew the story and knew the guy and his football background. I can write about Woodlawn football in the 1960s with some accuracy because I knew that program.
          So I talked to a few of his friends -- my friends, too -- for some background material on the man, but I only had to refer to my files for a couple of fill-in facts about the football games.
          The piece was too long, in my opinion, and I did it for that "target audience" because I knew other people on my blog and e-mail mailing lists would not care.  
          Writing the story, though, made me think -- again -- about the process of writing. One of the people I talked with said as we concluded, "I don't know how you're going to put all this together."
           That's what I do, I told him. That's what I've done since I was about 15 years old. That's how I made a living.
           I never considered myself a superior writer; I worked with, and know, a lot of people who I considered superior writers. At times, I didn't even enjoy writing all that much. It was difficult for me; at least, I was not satisfied that I had done all I could do with a story, not satisfied that I had dug hard enough for material or asked the right questions.
          Having stories edited, having them cut, could be deflating. I always tried to learn from the process, but I second-guessed myself -- and others -- enough times.
           I was a lot better at editing or cutting other people's stories than I was editing or cutting my own stories.
           It was always a challenge in the newspaper field to make the material fit the space; there were almost always limitations. You could only do so much, so you had to be good and choose wisely. 
           One thing that made working in Shreveport Journal sports from '82 through most of '87 so special was that we often just committed space to "blow out" a subject, wrote as much as we needed, a "big crank," as we called it. There were some award winners in there -- for everyone on the staff.
           So here is what I like about writing these days, this blog and the piece I did for my Woodlawn friends last week: No space limitation (but I don't want to write so long that it's boring) and the only editing I get is if Beatrice or my close friend John W. find some errors or things they don't like.
           The writing actually is easier because this is mostly personal stuff, these are my stories and I can do them -- unlike newspapers -- in conversational, e-mail type language. Some of it, as my wife likes to remind me, is stream of consciousness.
           The series on my Dad and the Holocaust is a personal mission, and I receive good feedback on the pieces. Don't know how many of the people on my mailing lists are reading them, and it doesn't matter. I want to do this series -- and one on my mother -- because it's important to me and, I think, important to my family. 
            I do have to do some research because my Dad skipped around a lot and at times doesn't provide much detail, I've had to "craft" the story. Sometimes it even feels like work.
            I've been doing the blog since late January 2013, and I aim to do two pieces a week, sometimes three. I don't know how much longer I will do that. There will be a day when I have written all I want to write, when I don't have the motivation to keep going.
            I've tried to stay away from controversial material, political and social; there's enough of that crap out there.
            The more I read and hear, the more I think all politicians are most concerned with making themselves look good. End of that opinion.
             Anyway, I enjoy doing the blog; I enjoy the feedback. Whether it's edited or not, long or short, for the near future, I will keep writing ... because that's what I do. And I don't always trust my memory.               


1 comment:

  1. From Jeff Rude: Read your story on writing from start to finish. Here's another thought: I do the back-page column at Golfweek. Because the mag shrunk in size this year, the column length is 620 words. That's short. It takes time to do it right. As I've said many times here, "I would have written shorter if I had more time."