That’s the word you’d often hear Marv Albert say whenever a foolish point guard went into the post with a floater against Shawn Bradley, Yao Ming, Ben Wallace or Mark Eaton.
Unlike those point guards who can wipe the egg off their face and then drain a game-winning three-pointer, writers don’t get to shake off rejection that fast. However, they can use it as motivation. Stephen King once pounded a nail into the wall by his desk and hung his rejection slips up on it. Now, he just pounds nails into any editor foolish enough to reject his writing.
As for me, it has been so long since I started writing that I really don’t remember my first rejection letter. Back in 1977, I was just 10 years old and writing what I thought would be better stories for the el cheapo sci-fi films I watched on Saturday morning.
So, pardon me if I choose a particularly painful rejection from my professional life. You see, I was lucky in that I had an in-born talent to write. I joined the staff of the Medford Mustang, the school newspaper for Medford (Mass.) High School in 1981. I also had a small news column in the Medford Daily Mercury, the city newspaper. Each article I wrote was so on the money that I rarely had any corrections.
|Medford, Mass., my hometown and hometown of Fanny Farmer, Maria Menounos, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Bloomberg, Terri Lyne Carrington, Thayer David, "Jingle Bells" and Elizabeth Short (aka "The Black Dahlia")|
That trend continued with the Palantir at Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, and for my column with the Mid-Cities Daily News. If there were any corrections, they were done by the editors of the Daily News or Daily Mercury. In college at Prairie View A&M University, I was learning my craft to become a professional and still was good enough to get my stuff into the paper with only minor changes (though, in hindsight, that piece where I inadvertently insulted the entire Army ROTC should have been edited a lot more).
After my time in the Navy, I worked for JDTV Inc., a magazine publishing company. Ironically, though it published magazines, it got its editorial content from contracted writers. I was the only writer on staff and my bosses had no editorial savvy. I literally had a free run, though I never abused that privilege. But, I got to interview the likes of Arnold Palmer, Larry Holmes and Martina Navratilova.
And then, after JDTV was bought out by Tribune Media and the office was closed, I went to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I started out doing agate (box scores) and, every now and then, round-ups (short pieces of a paragraph or two) of high school sports.
Finally, I got my chance to write a real news story and get it published. A chance for a byline in a nationally-recognized newspaper. It was the goal of my journalistic being. So, I covered a high school basketball game involving Fort Worth Dunbar and Fort Worth Southwest. Proudly, I turned it in.
That sucker came back with so much red on it, I thought someone had bled out on the damned thing.
I was crushed. I didn’t show it because you don’t cry in the sports department unless you’re a Chicago Cubs writer. But, man, I was hurt.
I felt like I got kicked in thenuts. Here I was, a man who had been writing for high school newspapers, a college paper and three small-market dailies in Medford, Euless and College Station (Bryan-College Station Eagle). I knew how to write. It was true that I had spent four years away from the craft in the Navy fighting Saddam Hussein and too many typhoons to remember, but I didn’t think I’d lost my talent.
What saved me that day was that my story was needed for that very day. I had a deadline to meet and I had to supervise the clerks compiling the sports scores. So, I buckled down, listened to the comments and suggestions of my editors and banged out a story that needed only three minor corrections.
I put my pride aside and studied how other sports and news stories had been written. I then began to pattern my stuff on them, while keeping my own recognizable style. I worked on my typing, too, improving from 50 words per minute to my current speed of 70.
It helped. I was laid off from the Star-Telegram in 2004 as the news industry slowly continued its die-off. I worked as a training instructor for Dangerous Goods for American Airlines for four years before being laid off again. Then, I signed on with Examiner.com.
I can proudly say that I have kept my professionalism despite being in a sea of bloggers and writers, many of whom don’t seem to have a clue. Fortunately, my fellow sports writers do, so we keep each other honest.
And with that, I pose the same question to our faithful readers – how did you react to your first official rejection notice?