Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sports Writing: A Beginner's Guide by Steve Craig

If you're anything like me, then you've probably caught yourself daydreaming a time or two about being a full-time sportswriter. After all, it seems like a pretty cool gig. You'd get paid to watch and write about sporting events, both of which things you most likely already love to do anyway. But unless you've got a journalism degree, a lot of writing experience, or numerous sports-related contacts, you might not know how to get started down the sports writing path. That's where Sports Writing: A Beginner's Guide by Steve Craig can help you out.

As the name suggests, this book is meant to help provide novices with an idea of what it takes to be a sportswriter and what it would be like to have a regular job working in the sports department of a newspaper. The novices that Craig has in mind are actually high school or college students, but his advice works even for older adults that are thinking about a career transition. And even though Craig is taking on the role of seasoned sportswriter and mentor here, he never dispenses his advice in a condescending way, which is always a bonus in a how-to book.

Sports Writing: A Beginner's Guide is a very thin volume, but its 163 pages are packed with very useful information, and none of the "filler" that has become all too common in how-to books. As a result, you can finish the book in just a few sittings and be on your way to writing becoming a better sportswriter in no time.

Since this is a beginner's guide, Craig assumes that the reader knows nothing about sports writing at all (or even reporting, really). So he starts the book with a few chapters covering the broader aspects of reporting and writing (the importance of remaining objective and taking notes during interviewing, as well as the importance of fact-checking, and things like that).

Once Craig tells readers the basics, he gets down to the nitty-gritty of sports writing. He reviews the five most common types of sports-related articles (the game story, the feature story, the sidebar, the notebook, and the column) and gives examples of the most important ingredients of each of these types. Finally, Craig ties everything together at the end and wraps the book up with a reminder that presentation (e.g. spelling and grammar) mean a lot, even in today's world of mostly casual correspondence.

I found Sports Writing: A Beginner's Guide to be very readable, and the advice was practical. In other words, the things Craig advises doing can be done right away, without further preparation or cost. If you're used to reading advice books, then you know that a lot of times the so-called advice requires you to do even more research, study, investigation, or make additional investments in materials and equipment before the writer feels you're "ready" to venture out into the real world to give his or her advice a try. But of course that's not really advice at all. Fortunately, Craig stays away from this kind of thing.

Craig is an award-winning sports writer himself, so he speaks with a voice of experience and authority. He knows what works and what doesn't, but at the same time, he encourages readers to find their own "voice" when writing and to experiment with different styles. In other words, he knows that what works for him probably won't work for everyone, and he doesn't pretend that you have to follow everything he says to the letter in order to make it as a sportswriter.

One of the best parts about this book was the fact that Craig includes full articles to illustrate his points. For example, in the chapter where he talks about how to write a good game story, he also includes an article from his personal archive so that readers can see how it all comes together in the finished piece. When he talks about keeping track of game stats on your own, he provides examples of those as well. I found those examples to be extremely valuable in helping me understand exactly what he was talking about in the text.

Another great thing about Sports Writing: A Beginner's Guide is the way that Craig encourages readers to cover all different kinds of sports. He realizes that there potentially is a niche for everyone, so he doesn't limit his book to talking about football, baseball, hockey, and basketball (although those sports are indeed featured prominently). He also talks about how to keep stats for volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, and other sports that usually don't get much attention in these how-to books. Craig realizes that beginning sportswriters will most likely have to start out at the bottom of the heap, which usually means covering high school sports for a local community newspaper. Since high school teams play a lot of different sports, a budding sportswriter better be ready to cover all of them.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Sports Writing: A Beginner's Guide. It has given me a better understanding of all the elements that make a good sports story, and has also given me some very good ideas about how to gather the information necessary to incorporate those elements into my story. It was an excellent book all around -- in fact, the only "deficiency" I can think of is that it was almost too short --  and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning how to write sports articles.

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