Thoughts on Being a Young Writer Part Two

Many of you who have followed my work for a while will already know, but most of you won’t. I am 23 years of age and have been writing at least semi-professionally since I was 18. I am a Journalism graduate who has been published in arguably the most well-respected newspaper across the world, The Guardian.

Today and throughout my career to this point, I’ve been frustrated by a lack of opportunities to learn more valuable things about my chosen career path. Because of that, I have attempted to write honestly about my own experiences and what I continue to learn as I continue writing for a living in the hope that it will help those younger and less experienced than me.

Yes, I’m not an established writer and I’m relatively inexperienced, but that also allows me to understand more the frustrations of being on the outside looking in. I won’t feed you out-of-touch lines that are recited in academic classes.

The first time I really went in depth on this was last year. You can read that piece here.

Now I am coming to the end of my first season as a full-time professional writer covering the NFL. It’s been a crazy year where a lot of my naive perceptions of the business have been eradicated. However, I’d be remiss to say I wasn’t right about some things.

One thing I definitely didn’t put enough emphasis on was understanding that brands, companies and websites aren’t just that, they are specific people. They are not only writers, but editors, managers and executives who will remember and react to everything that you do.

Consistently criticising one writer on one site unfairly might not just take away your opportunities to work at that paper or website, it could cost you opportunities elsewhere. Not only are potential employers watching how you interact with employees from other companies but they are likely also talking to the editors and writers from that company because everyone knows everyone in this business.

As often as your voice gets lost in the crowd, it can also easily be found because of the technology that runs the world we live in. In 30 seconds you can search through 10s of thousands of a person’s tweets and isolate specific terms or names.

What you say isn’t said into a vacuum, it’s noted down and received in ways that can affect your career.

The best people I know in this business at this stage aren’t overly sensitive, but there is a line you need to be able to recognize and understand that you can’t cross it. Insulting other writers for misreporting something or getting an analysis wrong may just seem like fun, but when it’s interpreted by decision makers who don’t see it that way it will affect your opportunities for employment.

That’s not to say we should all be robots when dealing with how we present ourselves perfectly. There is certainly still ways to have a lot of fun on something like twitter, in articles or when on radio shows/podcasts, but you have to act more like you’re messing with your grandparents opposed to your friends on a night out.

Something I’ve focused on doing in recent times is messing with the people I know I can mess with on twitter. If I blatantly insult someone such as Sam Monson at Pro Football Focus, Josh Norris at Rotoworld, Josh Liskiewitz at GM Jr Scouting or Andrew Parsons at Draft Mecca, it’s different because that’s an established back-and-forth that will be perceived that way.

If I start taking shots at national writers who I don’t know or just random writers when I find their work, then that’s going to be highlighted and viewed differently.

Do I like the idea of “censoring” myself or hiding my somewhat dark taste in humour simply because others are overly sensitive? No. Not at all. However, I also understand what is important to me. The only reason I want to grow my following is to help my career. If I need to strive for professionalism as much as I possibly can at all times, then that’s simply a part of my job.

It’s hard to fathom when you’re on the outside looking in or when you’re writing for your own site without co-workers who are massively well known, but people really do recognize how you act and you will find yourself either gaining or losing opportunities based on it.

I’m sure because I write this people will highlight it when I do act unprofessionally, but that’s a good thing. As I said, I’m just 23 years of age, I’m still developing and trying to get better at every aspect of what I do.

One thing I am finding is that it is very easy to be perceived as arrogant. Anyone who has spoken to me in real life or knows me at all outside of my writing understands that I’m very self-deprecating and confidence(outside of writing about sports) is more of a concern than arrogance. That’s just who I am and the way I carry myself.

I’ve experienced the change in how people perceive me over the past year through twitter.

This time last year I had around 500 followers on twitter and now I’m about to crack 5,000. I’m very thankful for the bloated audience, but I’ve also learned that I can no longer interact with everyone and reply to everything I want to reply to. There are simply too many things to talk about and too few hours in the day.

What happens in this situation is people believe I’m simply ignoring them or say stuff like “You talked to us when you were an unknown and now you think you’re too good to.” This is largely a schedule issue, but there has also been a change in how many people interact with me. To clarify this I have a short anecdote.

Around four years ago, I received an email from someone who wanted to be a writer like myself. He asked me for tips and if I could answer a few questions about writing. I obliged even though I assured him I wasn’t a good person to ask because I was only starting out too.

I spent some time trying to help him and sent a few emails back-and-forth. I encouraged him and told him not to doubt himself.

I followed him on twitter for a few weeks, but soon realized he didn’t really care about being a real writer because his tweets mostly focused on non-football things and repeated use of the caps lock button during soccer matches. There were no articles or efforts to follow the advice I had given him.

So I unfollowed him, but still answered questions whenever he asked me something.

Fast forward a few years and someone else points out a tweet from that person that explicitly calls me “elitist”, “pious” and notes “I can’t stand that guy”. This is someone I only ever met when I tried to help them and someone who I haven’t really interacted with at all during the years since.

This is the kind of thing that will inevitably come up when your audience grows and it’s something you need to understand and handle(I feel it’s best just to ignore it).

I touched on my schedule above and this is something that really matters for those looking at a career covering the NFL. During the regular season, I have the following responsibilities:

  • Two Bleacher Report columns.
  • One Football Outsiders column.
  • One Football Guys column.
  • Four in-depth game recaps for Football Guys.

My output is not very big during the season. However, it also takes more time to put these pieces together than you would think. On Sundays, my first Bleacher Report column reacting to something that happened during the early games must be filed.

This piece is usually filed around 2am Irish time(9pm EST). However, during the same night I must watch at least two other games to write my recaps for Football Guys. By the end of Sunday, I have completed around 11-12 hours of work.

On Monday morning, I write the next two game recaps. Depending on how gamepass is functioning, those recaps can take between two hours and five hours. From there, I must figure out what I want to write about for my Football Outsiders column(due Wednesday) and my Football Guys column(due Thursday).

Each of those columns take around 12 hours apiece to put together and sometimes it’s tough to find an interesting topic so there can be an additional 4-5 hours of stress on the Monday simply trying to put the plan for the week together.

Furthermore, the second Bleacher Report column must be put together by Thursday night. This column generally takes around 9-10 hours, but it can often be much more stressful because the deadline is tighter to account for the other columns and game recaps from that week.

Fridays are generally spent looking over games, performances and storylines that you didn’t have time to look at before then. Saturdays are technically days off, but following college football is encouraged, Pre Snap Reads sometimes needed some work and later in the year there was NFL1000 work that needed to be done.

Now, this schedule isn’t that crazy and the work is enjoyable. Of course, that’s the reason why you choose this career. It’s a dream job, but it’s not one that doesn’t come with a big commitment.

When the NFL1000 work came in later in the season, my schedule really became hectic. Since the start of January, I have done 102 hours of NFL1000 work per month, while still writing my Bleacher Report articles, trying to keep up with the draft, trying to keep posting pieces on PSR and trying to get back to some of the other things in my life outside of work.

For a few weeks I was fighting through my work despite feeling really burnt out. It’s my first year doing this, so it’s understandable that the stamina would need to be built up. Understanding how competitive this career choice is, I really wanted to fight through this burnout and keep working, but it has got to the point where I understood it was better to relax my schedule a bit.

I think this is something that is important and difficult to understand when you’re starting out. At least, it was for me. You do need time to relax, but you also need to push yourself to the point of being burnt out.

At this stage I know this article has gone on too long, but I do have one final point to make.

As hard as people work in this business, nobody can know everything, be an expert in everything or watch every single thing that happens. Having the ability to simply say “I don’t know…yet” is very under-appreciated and unfortuantely much rarer than you would think.

This is likely born out of insecurity and points back to the arrogance that people work to portray. It’s not worth fighting people on these kinds of things, but it is worth knowing that admitting that you haven’t watched a player enough to have a valuable opinion or admitting you were completely wrong on something isn’t the end of the world.

Unless you’re being a reporter, being right is more-often-than-not really, really overrated.

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