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“I want to write a book …”

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A couple of months ago, I received an advance copy of a sports book.

It was sent via mail, with an attached letter that used the word, “definitive” to describe the enclosed work. I started reading, read a little more, a little more—then turned to the acknowledgments section, where the author listed all the people he interviewed.

Total number: 63.

I was sitting in bed with the wife, and I looked at her, shaking my head. “This guy interviewed 63 people,” I said. “To write about a person in his 50s.”

As I write this blog post, I’m sort of losing my mind. I’m in the early stages of a new book project, and I’ve just finished going through my 18th sports media guide (see above photo), page by page, person by person. On my laptop, I have created a Word file for each listed player, coach, administrator—probably about 480 in total. After making the document, I try and locate the individual. Via Facebook, Twitter, Google, whatever. One by one by one. I have a couple of more media guides to go, and then I’ll take the next step—calling each person. Again, one by one by one. Not just the stars. Not just the veterans. Everyone. Free agents in camp for two days. Undrafted rookies.

It is slow.

It is annoying.

It is mind-numbing and spirit-sucking and, easily, my least-favorite part of the book process.

It’s also 100-percent necessary.

Back when I was young and dumb and ridiculously cocky, my goal was to become the best sports writer in America. Ultimately, I learned two important lessons: 1. There is no such thing; 2. If there is such a thing, I’m not it. What I can do, however, is outwork everyone; is make every extra call; track down all possible people; seek out nuggets and bits and shards of never-before-learned information. That, I continue to believe, is the great equalizer. Drive. Hard work. Doggedness.

I’ve had this chat with Jonathan Eig, my brother in books and obsessiveness. He’s one of the best around, and the reason is simple: He works it, and works it, and works it. So many people say, “I have a great book idea!” or “I want to write a book!”, and while I encourage folks to pursue what can be a truly rewarding experience, I also wonder if they believe it to be easy work (Think, write, submit).

Well, it’s not. At least not for me.

Now I need a drink …

4 replies on ““I want to write a book …””

No wonder, Jeff, that I consider you an elite author. There’s always something from your books, something so detailed, that sticks with me. From “Boys Will Be Boys”, it’s Barry Switzer and his heart breaking recollection of his mother’s substance abuse (barbiturates, if not mistaken) and how, after he told her he’d rather not ever see her again if she was to stay like that, she proceeded to step outside and blow her brains out. Powerful, lasting, stuff. Most knew about his dad being the bootlegger…

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Jeff, great post. I just bought your new book, Showtime, yesterday. I’ve only read the prologue and the first chapter, yet, know it will be fantastic. The depth of your research – ‘photocopies of 30 or so articles’, in a manila folder labeled, ‘JACK McKINNEY’ – is a perfect example.

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Wonderful point, Jeff. Grind and grind and grind some more. You may not have the gift of flash, but even if you do through effort you can add substance.

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This post hits me in just the right spot. One of my dreams has always been to write a book. I have some really interesting (at least to me) ideas and maybe a smidge of writing ability, but have found that forcing myself to sit down and plow through research materials (something I’m
not sure I’ve really done seriously since college) takes a level of self-discipline and focus that I may not possess. And that’s without even taking into account the possibility of conducting the hundreds of interviews that could arise from any project I work on. It’s hard to do while working full-time and raising a family, but that’s a poor excuse.

For what it’s worth, these are my favorite posts here. As someone who has literally no idea what goes into producing a full-length book (aside from a lot of work), I enjoy getting some insight into the process of a successful author.

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