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A Writer’s Career of Letters February 13, 2006

Posted by thewriter in Uncategorized.
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 Many people that know my work say I have a gift, well it is not a gift but a lot of hard work. I have labored over a laptop computer — and typewriter — since 1987, the year I decided I wanted to make my living as a writer. Though, I have tried to stay true to the course I set, sometimes we can get side-tracked or realize that the almighty dollar does indeed make the world go around — pretty much without it you don’t have a chance. I have continually freelanced and had my bit of success writing for newspapers, magazines and television. In order to travel the road, I also extended an olive branch to some of the most famous names in the profession and received a positive response.
By no means am I a professional lecturer on writing, but I would like to share some letters from the masters of the craft. I became hooked on the book Red, by Ira Berkow of the New York Times, and sent a letter to him about a possible interview. First, and foremost, Red Smith was the dean of sportswriters and one of the best writers in the world period. If you want to be a sportswriter, I suggest you read Red Smith’s work — Ira Berkow is also an excellent sportswriter — and the book by Berkow. I wanted to interview Berkow because of his success and the relationship he had with Red Smith, the response I received from him was phenomenal and we had a lengthy conversation on the telephone, however all I remember about our conversation was Kirby Puckett, former Minnesota Twin and Hall-of-Famer. The letter he sent to me helped more than a writer can ask for. I asked him to critique some published articles of mine and he did with pleasure. The letter went like this:
 

January 3, 1990
 

Dear Joe Boesch:
 

It’s been a little busy around here so it’s taken me some time to get around to responding to your letter.
 

My first suggestion, above all others, is to read, read, read. Read all the good writers you can lay your hands and eyes on. That’s true for anyone who wishes to be a writer. Good reading provided the bricks for the good writer. Make sure you read thoroughly E.B. White’s The Elements of Style, perhaps the best book on what a writer should be all about in his work. I was also moved, as a young writer, by people like Dylan Thomas (his prose stories, primarily), Willa Cather (especially My Antonia), Faulkner, Hemingway, P.G. Wodehouse, Isaac Babel, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the list goes on and on.
 

The second suggestion is to write, write, write. Learning of course, from the good writers by closely observing the tricks of their trade, and then applying in your own way what strikes you.
 

For now, I’d concentrate on such things as: when you quote someone, make it an interesting quote in taking some unusual or emphatic tone, expression, or viewpoint. Stay away from the predictable, the lackluster, the tired.
 

Stay away from cliches such as “cardiac hill.” Be careful about such usage, such as “the grass was a mild green.” What does “mild” mead? Mild usually has to do with weather or a sedative or a manner, or a number of other things. But I don’t think grass is one of them.
 

Anyway, keep at it. Keep trying. Try not to get discouraged. Like most other things, the harder one works at writing, the better one gets.
 

Best Wishes,
 

Ira Berkow
 

I continued writing to Ira Berkow and he would continually send me letters back. This letter I like, it is short, but to the point in my frustrations in writing.
 

October 30, 1990
 Dear Joe:
 

Anything that I could tell you about Red Smith I’ve said in Red my biography of him (and, particularly from a personal standpoint, in the introduction, and in the last section).
 

The book is in most libraries, and the paperback is still available in some places. I’m sure you won’t have a problem locating it.
 

As for your personal frustrations on writing, most of us have them, and have them most of the time. As Red Smith once said to me, “Keep the faith.” And I pass that on to you.
 

With best wishes,
 

Ira Berkow
 

That I certainly did.
Writing is frustrating sometimes and also your train of thought might not be up to par on days and other days it will. I literally stopped writing from 1998 to 2000, because I was burnt out and really didn’t care about writing another word. It wasn’t until an advertisement from Madden Publishing about putting together a book on baseball stories that I sat back down at the laptop and began writing again. I felt revived; like an addict out of rehab. I needed the time away from writing because I was feeling tired and having not much to say about anything. Also, personal situations in life will make the words flow again and take the world off of your shoulders to a free mind again. There are many people that steered my career in the right direction and helped me; one professor is George Haber and his letter of encouragement.
 

June 25, 1991
 

Dear Joe
 

Many thanks for the clipping. I think it reads well. I also like to think that some of the stuff we talked about in the course helped you in writing this.
 

In light of your new editorship with the Slate, I wondered what your reaction was to the news that Tech is suspending the athletic program next year. What does the sports editor edit when there’s no sports to write about? Ironically, the story appeared in Newsday the same day that the story appeared about the $225,000 signing of Al Watson by the St. Louis Cardinals.
 

Good luck with Newsday…and with all your writing. Don’t be discouraged! Read everything and do try to branch out. There are just too many sportswriters around, and I think you’ll increase your employability to the degree you’re able to wear more than one journalistic hat!
 

Stay in touch. Best of luck.
 

George Haber
 

George Haber not only helped me with my career, but also mentored my style of writing. Another mentor is Bernie Bard who was a fine writer and reporter — now retired and enjoying life — with the New York Post. Just like Ira Berkow, he would critique my stories to a degree and told me about understanding constructive criticism. In writing, you have to take criticism well not only from teachers but from editors. If you can’t take it well, then you should rethink your career goals. Editors will constantly tell you to do a better job and will also send you rejection letters that will fill up a shoebox — I have many of them. Also, you can’t wing a story or make it up editors will find out and you will tarnish your reputation as a writer, no one will believe your reporting or writing. Take the time to do the research, especially in sports. Today, the Internet is a common research tool and is easily accessible, as is the library. When quoting someone, make sure the quote is accurate — use a tape recorder. Every interview that I’ve done, I used a tape recorder. They are accurate, and it is a good idea to hold onto the tapes for research; most athletes don’t mind a tape recorder as long as you tell them you are taping the interview. Former Major League pitcher John Habyan was a great interview, he was always cordial and willing to help.
Bernie Bard would always lecture the class about interview styles and techniques; he was an inspirational writer and a great person. In class if you wrote a great lead or story he would get all excited and take the chalk throw it against the chalkboard and say, “now that is the story I’m looking for.” (Our little Dead Poet’s Society.) He motivated me and inspired me to write and so did his letters.
 

From The Desk Of:
                          Bernie Bard
8-17-90
 Dear Joe:
 

Sorry I was a little slow in the memory department the other night. Creeping senility.
I clearly remember your sports stories from This Week and the time I spent going over them, as well as your work in class. Hope all goes well, and best of luck at Newsday.
 

Best Regards,
  Bernie
 

My relationship with Bernie Bard continued and he made it known when he liked my stories.
 

11/11/91
  Dear Joe-
 Good piece on John Hanc. I liked it a lot.
 

Best Regards,
  Bernie Bard
 

I also once wrote a story about the craziness of the boxer Mike Tyson and Bernie Bard noticed it and liked it.
 

Dear Joe:
 

Great Lead!
 

Best Bernie
 

He circled the lead and I wrote it like this:
 

Mike Tyson’s greatest punchout came last Thursday when he was sentenced to six-years in prison and four-years probation.
 

Another letter from Bernie Bard was on my piece that the National Hockey League published about drugs in sports.
 

12/4/1991
 Joe–
 

Your stuff sings. You wrote a nice, tight story, with a lot of pizzazz, and easy to read. That’s everything.
 

Two Newsday pieces had a lot of sparkle.
 

Piece in the Islander News also had plenty of splash, and a nicely turned-out feature that could do credit to any paper, from Times on down. Solid reporting, probably the definitive piece on AHA program, I would guess.
 

Keep slugging. You’re knocking ’em out of the park.
 

Warmest regards,
 Bernie
 

Besides the above mentioned teachers and writers, there are other writers that have helped me. John Hanc, Newsday fitness writer, played an important part in getting me a try out with Newsday. Probably, if I never had him as a teacher, and friend, I would have never lived my dream of writing for Newsday Sports. When I was in high school, my English Journalism class went on a field trip to Newsday — it was the most educated field trip a struggling writer can ask for. When I walked into the sports department, I was in awe. Richard Edwards, my teacher, said to me, “Joe, is this what you want to do?”
“Yes…”I replied back.
Always take note, teachers play an important part in developing a writing style, don’t take anything for granted. Writing is hard, but the rewards are gratifying. It is true to know other areas in writing, sports is just fun, and I believe, the easiest to break into. Continue sending letters to writers and asked them their advice on the craft. Try to keep personal stuff out of reporting, don’t let the bullshit of life and materialism get in the way of your writing career. Set your sails free and go.
When Operation Iraqi Freedom happened, I decided to send an e-mail to Sebastian Junger, author of the Perfect Storm and Fire. Another great writer, who branched out to different areas and became good at it. (I personally enjoy his adventure writing and war reporting.)
In the e-mail to him, I asked him if he was going on assignment anywhere within Iraq?
His reply:
 

Dear Joe,
 

No, this time it looks like I’ll be spending the war in the US. Thanks for asking, though.
 

Best,
 Sebastian
 

Writing is great, as is sports. And, by the way, thanks for asking.

Why Write? January 25, 2006

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Hello world! January 25, 2006

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