I was an English major in college. Wouldn’t change it for the world. And, for those of you who are still in school, I’m here to remind you of the inevitable truth: after graduation, you will have to get out there and dig up a job. Unlike business and teaching degrees, an English degree does not have the benefit of a clear pipeline into a stable career.
Cue mournful nods from English majors past.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure STEM majors make the big bucks, but English majors have more freedom in career choice than all the STEM majors put together.
English major sports fans: whether you’re a football, soccer, baseball, tennis, or golf fan, sports writing is a great way to make sports your job while still maintaining a certain amount of personal freedom - ie, freelance writing. It’s also the sort of career you can build up while you’re still in college, or while you’re working another job to pay the bills.
Here are the things you can do today to wet your feet in the sports writing world.
Start a Blog
The only way to improve one’s writing skill is by reading and writing a lot. Think about it, when we’re babies, we don’t have any words - we have to learn each and every one - and the process of refining our communication never really ends.
Moving from the verbal to the written medium is another leap, and requires even more practice. There’s a fine line between writing about last night’s match in an accessible tone that engages readers and writing as if you were talking to a buddy. Rule of thumb: avoid casual use of the word “like.” The only way to get better is to write. Time, practice, and mimicking styles you admire will help to refine your writerly sensibilities.
Start a blog. Be accountable to yourself.
The internet is vast enough that if you don’t want to share and promote your posts at first, no one will find them. It can be your own private-ish practice field. Remember though that someday, once you’ve hit the big leagues, your early work will be easily searchable. The internet never forgets.
The most important tool of a modern sports writer is his or her laptop. A freelance writer really does require a machine that’s portable, private, and reliable. Don’t rely on library computers. Don’t borrow your brother’s. Laptops aren’t insanely expensive like they once were. A person can buy a decent laptop for around $100 on ebay. When buying a laptop online, think of it like buying a car. It requires the proper research - knowing the seller, hard drive specs, warranty etc - and if you make an informed decision, you’ll be happy with your purchase.
A piece of advice that can be found in almost every “How to Become a Sports Writer” article is to find your niche. I reject that advice for new writers. Don’t get caught up in the idea of specialization early-on. That can come later.
When starting out, a sports writer really should be able to write about any field. A burgeoning writer wants to highlight their versatility to show that they’re up to any challenge. If you can only cover basketball games and not, say, volleyball, you might find yourself with a shortage of writing opportunities. And if you don’t get your work out there, how are you going to land that big gig writing for your favorite basketball site?
When you’re ready to enter a more public sphere with your writing, try entering contests. They’re great for acclimating yourself to hard deadlines - which a sports writer must be good at meeting - and they give you the opportunity to compete with other up and coming sports writers.
Asking people for advice is awkward. It’s the nature of the beast. Who knows how to answer vast questions about breaking into the industry with anything more than generalized clichés about hard work? Not many people.
And yet, learning from those who have paved the way in your industry is an invaluable exercise. Think of yourself as a gatherer of stories. Ask specific questions.
What was the most valuable book, website, or resource that helped you get into sports writing?
What is the biggest mistake you see newcomers make?
Is there anything you didn’t do when you were my age that would have helped your sports writing career?
When you started out, what was your favorite topic to cover?
Asking questions that help you better understand a person you admire in the field will get you further than all the career advice in the world.
Once you have opened up a dialogue and established a professional relationship, don’t be nervous to ask for their help when you’re ready to take the plunge and apply for an internship or paid writing job. Sometimes having the right reference or connection in the field can make the difference between getting a job or not.