What An Opportunity

For the love of beautiful writing

In Sports on October 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm

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Dave Sheinin, The Washington Post sportswriter probably most well known for his book on Robert Griffin III and extensive coverage of Stephen Strasburg, spoke to my sports journalism class on Monday. To be specific, he spoke to us via Skype – which should come as no surprise, considering he is seemingly always on the move and is a platinum member at one hotel chain and a gold member at another. He was about to be on the road (again); he estimates he has spent over five years of his life in hotel rooms.

First, I should note that I think Sheinin wrote the finest, most beautiful sports feature story I have ever read. It was titled  “The Phenomenal Son” in print, “For the love of Bryce Harper” online. It might take you 15-20 minutes to read the piece, but believe me, it’s worth every second.

I had about 50 questions to ask Sheinin. I see him as someone who has accomplished many of the things I dream of – writing longform pieces for a living, occasionally taking a year to write a book about a fascinating athlete, merging art and creativity into literature all in the scope of sports journalism. He was incredibly helpful (and humble) and provided some stellar advice for young writers.

There were a few things I found most interesting.

As for his most practical advice? “Make yourself an essential voice on the topic you want to cover.” That means, if you want to write about football for the rest of your life, then you had better make yourself an integral reporter when it comes to getting news on football.

As for his advice that I’ll apply the most to my writing? “Get to a quiet spot right away” after you interview a source. I often take notes during an interview but then don’t quite grasp the emotions I was feeling during our conversation when I readdress my notes a few days or a week later. Sheinin says write how the interview went, and how you were feeling during it, right after. Valuable advice.

But as for the most captivating thing he said? That’s easy.

Many of the students’ questions had to do with his style of writing and reporting and selecting what fits into a story – essentially, how do you do what you do? “There is a mysterious quality to how we do what we do sometimes,” Sheinin said. “I can’t explain half of what I write.”

It wasn’t an answer we, as young writers, could apply to our own writing, but I appreciated it. It was honest. He wasn’t trying to hide some grand secret from us. He, like many of the other great sports writers today, is an artist. He is a wordsmith, molding sentences and paragraphs strategically, emphasizing certain factions of the story at certain times, all to make the reader feel a specific emotion. As Isaac Babel once said, “No iron spike can pierce the human heart as icily as a period in the right place.” Most artists can’t explain their thought process simply – they’re just doing what feels write. They’re letting their creativity flow. That’s what Sheinin does.

Sheinin discussed the feeling he had when he learned he would be given a 4,000-word canvas to create his Phenomenal Son feature. He was thrilled. He wanted to make some art. “I can really take a chance and make this thing sing,” he said.

And, well – listen to the music.

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  1. […] Dave Sheinin spoke to my class earlier this fall, he preached that access is everything. Without access to Rice, this story wouldn’t be nearly […]

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