Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Interesting business pieces - on Dropbox, Chris Sacca & Ron Conway

There's been a few interesting pieces of business writing I've seen lately, including pieces recently published and related ones from a few years ago.

The latest issue of Fast Company Magazine had the feature story "Dropbox Versus the World" by J.J. McCorvey on the cloud storage company and the recent Forbes cover story was "How Super Angel Chris Sacca Made Billions, Burned Bridges And Crafted The Best Seed Portfolio Ever" by Alex Konrad.

Sacca is a venture capital who I've a few times posted on writing from and about him and after reading the Forbes profile, I then read two interesting older pieces, both written by Miguel Helft"A Post-Google Fraternity of Investors" was from the New York Times in 2007 and in part about Sacca and "Ron Conway is a Silicon Valley startup's best friend" was done for Fortune in 2012 on the venture capitalist noted in the Forbes piece as a former mentor of Sacca's.

Two great pieces of rememberance

There were two amazing recent pieces about parents remembering children who died, one written about a twin who five years ago died shortly after birth, as a result of fatal problems discovered in utero, and one by a father eulogizing his 21 year-old son.

The eulogy was "Remembering Max" posted to Medium by ESPN writer Ivan Maisel and the newspaper piece "Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact" by Michael Vitez for the Philadelphia Enquirer.

Really profound writing on both Max and Thomas.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Best non-sports writing linked to in 2014

Following up on my just posted best sports writing linked to in 2014 is the below listing of the best non-sports (and non-business) writing I read and posted on in 2014:

"Salvage Beast" by William Langewiesche for Vanity Fair - on Nick Sloane, a salvage master ship captain who comes in when vessels are in distress and works to either save them, recover goods aboard or reduce the environmental impact of a wreck. The story also struck me as particularly interesting in that it brought to mind Susan Casey's great book The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean.

"The Human Factor" by William Langewiesche for Vanity Fair - on the crash of Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean, a disaster that's written in this excellent piece as being one that both become more rare with automated flight systems and was caused in part by pilots not being prepared to deal with problems that arise, given due to their reliance on... automated flight systems.

"The Plane That Fell From the Sky" by Buzz Bissinger for the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1981 - on TWA Flight 841 that suffered severe mechanical failure (as opposed to the human failings from the doomed Air France flight) and then required herculean efforts from the captain to try to land the plane safely.

"The Long Fall of One-Eleven Heavy" by Michael Paterniti for Esquire from 2000 - on Swiss Air flight 111 that crashed into the Atlantic, killing all 229 passengers. Just an amazing piece that made me wonder what it was like to write when just reading it was heart-wrenching.

"The Perfect Fire" by Sean Flynn for Esquire from 2000 - on a giant warehouse blaze fought by firefighters in Worcester, MA and remarkably tense writing that brought to mind some of the best works of authors like Sebastian Junger or Jon Krakauer.

"The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit" by Michael Finkel for GQ Magazine - on Christopher Knight, who spent close to 30 years by himself in the woods of Maine off supplies he pilfered. Knight's story is a tremendously interesting one and Finkel wrote the piece with himself in it as someone who visited Knight in prison. This first-person approach definitely worked in the story and was made even more interesting with Finkel's own back-story as a journalist fired for creating a composite character, and Finkel then having his identity assumed by a murderer. It's a remarkable tale that Finkel wrote of in the 2006 book True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa that's the basis of a soon to be released movie starring Jonah Hill and James Franco.

"Beyond Belief: A Journey to Antartica" by Chris Jones for AFAR Magazine - an almost dream-like read on time in a remarkable place.

"The Brief, Wondrous Life of Zina Lahr" by Grayson Schaffer for Outside Magazine - a piece that sticks with you as a reader, in part because of what the family has had to go through with Zina's seven-months pregnant sister dying in a 2010 car accident and also just because of the description of Zina herself. Really just captivating writing on someone that most people would never have known of if not for this story.

"A Speck in the Sea" by Paul Tough for the New York Times - on fisherman John Aldridge who fell off a lobster boat into the Atlantic. It was also interesting to me that the piece written by Tough who wrote the book How Children Succeed, which I wrote about earlier this year.

"Can You Say... Hero?" by Tom Junod for Esquire from 1998 - on Mr. Rogers and one of the most memorable magazine pieces I've read (for the first time in a prior year and posted online by Esquire in 2014).

Best sports writing linked to in 2014

I realized recently that while I did put together a book of the best business writing I've read through 2014, I hadn't done any compilation on best writing not about business since my Jan 2014 post covering stories from 2013. So... here's my favorite sports writing read and posted on in 2014:

"‘OMG. You’re So Much More Than Awesome’" by Michael Powell for the New York Times - on time he spent in rural North Carolina with Kevin Bumgarner, who was proudly watching his son Madison Bumgarner make history with his World Series pitching performance against the Royals.

"The right thing to do vs. the state of Florida" by Michael Kruse for SB Nation - on the death of 18-year-old Devaughn Darling during a 2001 Florida State University off-field practice and what's occurred since. Darling's family sued the state of Florida over the circumstances of Darling's death and agreed to a $2M no-fault settlement, with $1.8M of it still not paid to them as it's up to the discretion of the Florida state legislature whether they actually pay the settlement money. It was a maddening piece to read at times due to both the money and details around and after Darling's death, but Kruse wrote the story incredibly well.

"The Umpire's Son" by Lisa Pollak for the Baltimore Sun from 1987 - a Pulitzer Prize winning story on MLB umpire John Hirschbeck and his family. In 1992 they learned of the rare genetic disease Adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD, that would claim the life of eight-year-old John Drew Hirschbeck and leave his younger brother Michael afflicted with the disease, along with his two sisters as carriers that could pass it along to any males they might eventually give birth to. It's an empathic story from Pollak that becomes even more profound with the Hirschbeck family's tragic news from April 2014.

"A Long Journey to Spring" by Chris Jones for ESPN The Magazine - on Kansas City Royals coach Mike Jirschele, who Jones writes of having endured enormous family tragedy with three brothers dying from muscular dystrophy and this season has his first big-league job after 36 years in the minors.

"Precious Memories" by Tommy Tomlinson for ESPN - on former North Carolina men's basketball coaching legend Dean Smith and powerful reading on the toll that Dementia takes on people and their loved ones.

"Lockerbie: A story beyond tragedy, a story of curling and Olympic pride" by Jeff Passan for Yahoo Sports - on a town, it's painful past, current Olympic heroes and a writer wanting to tell it's story.

"Eggs and wisdom" by Chris Jones for ESPN The Magazine - on the late college basketball coach Rick Majerus and his former player, Keith Van Horn.

"The writer and the puzzle: Richard Ben Cramer couldn't crack A-Rod" by S.L. Price for Sports Illustrated on the late writer and his attempt to write about Alex Rodriguez and boy, does Price ever write it well.

"Crews, Olin families persevering 20 years later" by Anthony Castrovince for MLB.com - the piece was written as a letter to the Cleveland Indians pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin who died 20 years ago in a boating accident during Spring Training. It was really well done and covers both the lives of Crews and Olin and what's occurred since with their respective families.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mooallem & Titus pieces - on end of life decisions & dealing with depression

It's really not with the intent of closely linking them together, but two great pieces of writing I've seen recently were "Death, Redesigned" by Jon Mooallem for California Sunday Magazine and a post to reddit that Mark Titus did about overcoming depression.

The Mooallem piece brought to mind the great Atul Gawande book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (which I wrote about here) and Mooallem wrote of many of the same concepts around end of life directives and palliative care, but for much of the piece with a business-focused approach. Covered in the story was entrepreneur Paul Gaffney and his idea for an app around planning for one's death, with brainstorming sessions led by Paul Bennett from Ideo. Mooallem in his story also wrote of Ideo partnering with BJ Miller, executive director of San Francisco’s Zen Hospice Project dedicated to the field of palliative care, and Miller last week did a TED Talk, that once available online, likely can be viewed from either the TED or Zen Hospice websites.

The Titus piece is his first-person take on what he did to deal with his depression and the writing from him can probably can be generalized to just doing things, and then keeping up the momentum of doing things. It's solid stuff from him that brought to mind for me a post I did in 2011 on mental health writing in Esquire, with pieces by Chris Jones and Mike Sager.

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson was a good book on the British ocean liner that was sunk by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, killing over 1,000 onboard.

I've now read the last five books of historical non-fiction from Larson, with the prior ones In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac's Storm and while I enjoyed Dead Wake quite a bit, I probably put it in the middle of the pack for me, with my favorites from Larson Isaac's Storm and In the Garden of Beasts.

As with all of his books I've read, Larson provides engrossing storytelling along with great detail and what struck me the most from the book was the role played by the British Navy during this period of WWI prior to the U.S. entering the war. It was fascinating to read of how Winston Churchill as the top British Naval Officer privately expressed that if German sub being responsible for the death of a number of American passengers, the United States might cast aside neutrality and enter the war.

With it being either in the form of a conspiracy to put the Lusitania in danger or just simple gross negligence, it was interesting reading of how much information wasn't passed along by the British Navy to The Lusitania, both around movements of German U-boats and a better route to take into England, via the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland. Additionally, the ship was lacking a Naval Escort in British waters, even though that both requested by Lusitania owners and provided for another British ship. Then after the sinking, British officials tried to blame and even prosecute the captain, while knowing full well how much more they could have done to help keep the ship safe.

Really a fascinating story well told by Larson.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Interesting business writing - on Sirius & Howard Stern, Disney & MagicBands and Ikea & expansion

Three interesting pieces of recent business writing covered covered subjects across the corporate world with stories on Disney, SiriusXM, and Ikea.

Cliff Kuang for Wired wrote "Disney's $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband" and this was probably the most fascinating to me of the three in that it was about a compelling new technology. MagicBands are wristbands that visitors to Walt Disney World in Orlando (the bands likely to make it to Disneyland by the end of 2016) can wear to help improve their experience at the park... with Disney of course benefiting from this as well.

For Fortune Magazine, Beth Kowitt wrote "How Ikea took over the world" on the home furnishings retailer and it's forays into new geographies being successful in large part to an attention to research on the markets and what consumers there want.

The last piece to note here was by Felix Gillette for Bloomberg Businessweek with "Can SiriusXM Survive Without Howard Stern?" on the satellite radio company. The piece covers how SiriusXM has been successful in recent years and contract renewal negotiations with Stern, it's most well-known on-air talent and likely the number one driver of subscribers for the company.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Great GQ feature stories - by Paterniti & Flynn

There's two exceptional features I've seen recently from GQ Magazine, one by Michael Paterniti and one by Sean Flynn.

The Paterniti piece from the latest issue was "The Accident" and linked at the top of it (with an editor's note of "the second of our two-part series on the ways accidents shape our lives") was "The Vanishing" by Flynn from 2014.

Flynn's story was about Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and it covers the lack of open communication from the Malaysian government and how it's made a horrible situation even more difficult for family members of those who were on the plane.

The Paterniti story is written about a time from his own childhood and on the reckless decisions kids make with booze and driving, a fatal car accident, and not knowing for certain who caused it. While definitely more personal than Paterniti's other great works, this piece similar to many other stories of his in that it sticks with you after reading.

Writers on writing - by King, Sager, Jones, Sherman & Keohane

Lately on the subject of writers and writing, there's been some great stuff I've seen lately that feels to group into a couple of categories.

In the general writing wisdom category were two great pieces with first Stephen King apparently in 1986 writing the first-person "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes" and the other piece of writing wisdom was provided by Mike Sager with the short "Tips" page from his website.

Still in the general subject of writing wisdom, but more specifically maxims about his own writing, were some rules recently come across that Chuck Jones, writer of Wile E. Coyote & The Road Runner and who passed away in 2002, put to paper and which were passed along in the below tweet:

In the writing about great writing from others category were two pieces to note here, first with Ed Sherman for Poynter writing "Why there’s not a single Alex Rodriguez quote in ESPN’s 12,000-word profile" about the profile done by J.R. Moehringer and then Joe Keohane for Columbia Journalism Review doing "Hurting for Words" about the new Michael Paterniti book Love and Other Ways of Dying, with the below tweet listing out the stories featured:

Friday, March 06, 2015

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson was an interesting book with the subtitle Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. Johnson in the introduction writes of how the book about the "hummingbird effect," with an innovation or cluster of innovations triggering other changes that seem to be in a different domain. The book made me think of others I've read that dealt at least in part with scientific developments, including The Innovators by Walter Isaacson and The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes and below are the six areas covered by Johnson along with what struck me from his writing about each:

1. Glass: The printing press being invented led to more people becoming literate, which led to them being aware they're farsighted, which led to them getting glasses, which led to an industry of spectacle makers, which later led to microscopes and and then telescopes.

2. Cold: The rise of air conditioning led to huge population growth in the southern states of the U.S. and inventions and innovations often come in clusters, with multiple people independently coming up with the same thing.

3. Sound: The telephone played a role in skyscrapers, otherwise think of how difficult it would be to get messages to everyone.

4. Clean: Similar to how telephones enabled large buildings, plumbing and sanitation / waste removal enabled the growth of large cities. Additionally, understanding of germ theory and the need for clean drinking water has kept alive so many more people than would otherwise be the case.

5. Time: Time used to be a much more local thing with clocks synced to the location of the sun, but as things like telegraphs and railroads become commonplace, it made it more important to have standard time in different places.

6. Light: Artificial light changed people's sleep patterns. Previously they would go to sleep when it got dark, wake four hours later and stay up for a bit, then sleep for four more hours.

Overall, it was a solid, if at times a bit dry at times, book from Johnson and there was a simultaneous PBS/BBC television series he hosted that had the same name as the book.

Great sports writing - by Moehringer, Saslow & Anderson

Three great recent pieces of sports writing included two from ESPN and one from Bleacher Report.

The larger of the two ESPN features is 12,000 words by J.R. Moehringer with "The Education of Alex Rodriguez" on the Yankee returning from his season-long steroid suspension. Just an amazing piece by someone who frequently produces great writing.

The other ESPN story is "The Man in the Van" by Eli Saslow on Blue Jays pitching prospect Daniel Norris, who received a $2M signing bonus and lives out of an old VW van.

The Bleacher Report story to note here is "Craig Sager's Harrowing and Emotional Journey Back to the NBA" by Lars Anderson on the TNT sideline reporter. It's a heartwarming tale that includes a cool video of Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich being interviewed by Craig Sager Jr.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler was a follow up to their 2010 book Abundance (which I wrote about last year) and it's noted early on in Bold that the book written as a sort of a playbook for accomplishing the things that can solve some of the world's biggest problems and bring about abundance. Bold is divided into three sections with the first on bold / exponential technologies, the second on the psychology of the book as well as current innovators and third on detailed how-to steps that Diamandis and Kotler lay out as recipes towards business success.

The first section was the most compelling to me and the idea of exponential technologies relates to technology advances multiplying again and again (in the same fashion of the Moore's Law concept that the number of integrated circuits on a transistor will double every twelve to twenty-four months) and that exponential technologies means that advances or entirely new business areas create the potential for additional advances and other areas to build on top of them.

Some the examples of industries and companies that Diamandis and Kotler note in the exponential technologies section include: 3-D printing (which enables industries and companies like Made in Space), self-driving cars (it didn't seem to be spelled out in the book, but this would create the ability for an entire ecosystem around providing services, likely through apps, to people who no longer need to pay attention driving while in their car), networks and sensors (what the Internet of Things is about), artificial intelligence (with one usage for AI being the analyzing of data from all the networks and sensors), robotics (including drones), and entirely new developments in the medical field (synthetic biology and personalizing medicine, which brings to mind the scientist Eric Schadt who I've several times linked to articles about). Additionally Diamandis and Kotler give as examples of exponential technologies that operate at a platform level Kickstarter, Airbnb and Uber.

The second part of the book about the bold mindset includes mention of companies and organizations that have successfully employed skunk works (a group apart from the rest of the business) to bring about innovation, the Google X group led by Astro Teller that aims for 10x or 1,000 increases in performance, and the company Planetary Resources that Diamandis and others created to mine asteroids for materials. Additionally included in this section were profiles on Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Larry Page. The third section was titled the bold crowd and included pretty in-depth details and instructions for people in the areas of crowdsourcing, crowd funding, building communities, and incentive competitions.

Overall it was a solid read and details about Bold were posted by Diamandis with "11 Steps for being Bold" to his tumblr blog.

Interesting business writing - on Ive from Apple, Hoover from Product Hunt & solid business advice

Some recent interesting business writing ran the gamut in terms of types of writing with the three pieces to note here being a blog post, a magazine piece on a startup founder, and brilliantly done 17,000 word profile on perhaps the most influential product design guru in the world.

The long profile was for The New Yorker by Ian Parker who wrote "The Shape of Things to Come" on Apple SVP Design Jonathan Ive. Really a remarkably detailed and fascinating to read piece on someone whose tastes help set the technology used by so many.

The other profile was by Adam Satariano and Eric Newcomer for Businessweek with "Why Startups Want This 28-Year-Old to Really Like Them" about Ryan Hoover, founder and CEO of the very cool and easy to digest (via once daily emails) tech curation site Product Hunt.

The blog post was by entrepreneur and investor Jason Calacanis who in January posted "How to go from a nobody to a somebody" to his blog. The post contains a lot of solid advice about how someone can work their way into being known in business today, and notes the aforementioned Ryan Hoover. Calacanis is a guy who I came across from him interviewing venture capitalist Chris Sacca (which I wrote about here), puts on the annual startup event Launch Festival (with this year's iteration March 2-4 in San Francisco), and had a quote of his pretty prominently featured in the book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler (with below about Google CEO Larry Page... and taken from Google Books):





Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Writers on writing & pieces about New York Times writer David Carr

There's been a number of great things I've seen recently on writers and writing, with a majority of them related to New York Times writer David Carr who died on Feb 12th.

Three really profound remembrances were "David Carr, friend of journalism" by Erik Wemple for the Washington Post, "King David" by Ta-Nehisi Coates for the Atlantic, and (with this last one the shortest) "David Carr was one of my dearest friends" by Andrew Rossi for CNN. Related to Rossi, he directed the movie Page One: Inside the New York Times, an awesome film for anyone interested in writing.

Written in the New York Times as a final "Media Equation" column of Carr's (the byline was "with David Carr") was "David Carr's Last Word on Journalism, Aimed at Students," a piece that included the link to Carr's syllabus to his Boston University Journalism class, a pretty fascinating document about writing that Carr posted to Medium. The last thing to note about Carr in this post was something published by Longform with "David Carr, 1956-2015" containing five pieces by Carr and one interview done of him.

Two other pieces about writing were compelling works starting off with "I never intended to write a Starbucks story" posted to Nieman Storyboard and on an interview with New York Times writer Jodi Kantor done by Lisa Pollack. It's interesting content from Kantor about writing a story that's incredibly fascinating to me in that it appears to have quickly brought about a large change for the better from Starbucks in how they schedule employees' work shifts.

The final piece to mention here was a sort of oldie, but goodie with "Stephen King's Top 20 Rules for Writers" taken from his brilliant book On Writing, originally published in 2000.

The Night of the Gun by David Carr

The Night of the Gun by David Carr in 2008 was a remarkable memoir of addiction, single parenting and a career in journalism from the New York Times writer who died recently at the age of 58. The book is a sort of going back in time for Carr, with him researching and conducting interviews about his past and he writes of how our memories can selective, and not actual representations of what occurred. Carr provides an incredibly honest account of his life, with details about the depths of his addiction to crack cocaine, horrendous parenting decisions prior to rehab, and events after his successful six-month stint in drug rehab, including the difficulties that can come with a blended family and then Carr's trouble with alcohol years after kicking drugs.

At the beginning of the book, Carr wrote of how he grew up in a Minneapolis suburb and while in high school drank, smoked pot every day along with doing other drugs, and then did cocaine for the first time on his 21st birthday. He went to drug treatment for the first time in 1984 and was a successful journalist by the mid-1980s, then freebased cocaine for the first time in early 1986 at 29 years old and after that started smoking crack cocaine. Crack took things to a whole new level, both in how great the experience was and in its negative ramifications. In terms of the dangerous situations that alcohol and drugs got him into, it's amazing that he made it through and a dominant thing that comes out about the wild times is how the life really was exciting, until it wasn't anymore.

In April 1988, Carr became a father when fellow junkie Anna gave birth two months prematurely to twin girls, Erin and Meagan, and Carr on November 18th of that year gave them to his parents to watch (after he left the girls in a cold car to go and get high) and a week later entered Eden House, a state of Minnesota-funded six month treatment program. During a fair amount of this time the twins were with excellent temporary foster care and Carr's parents would bring them by Eden House every weekend to visit. When Carr got out, he lived in a house for recovering addicts and the girls were living with Anna at the time after she did a rehab stint. However, while Carr was able to throw his energies into rebuilding his journalism career, Anna fell back into the drug dealing life and Carr in May 1990 successfully filed for full custody. At that point, so many people, especially family, helped Carr raise the girls with he as a single parent and increasingly more successful journalist. Related to his career, Carr at one point in the book notes how his goal was to have enough juice that he would not get pushed around by lesser men or women who were his superiors.

In December 1991, Carr got cancer, a disease that at the time resulted in the removal of his spleen and difficult rounds of chemotherapy. This is the disease that eventually killed him some 23 years later and it's sad reading what Carr in his book wrote about how cancer becomes a part of you that keeps it's own schedule, with your body as the host. In 1993, Carr met Jill, who would become his second wife when the twins were six years old and the family moved to Washington D.C. in 1995 when Carr got the job as editor of the Washington City Paper. Their daughter Madeline was born in December 1996 and in 2000 Carr moved to New York to write for Inside.com. The site ran out of money after a year and he did contract writing for New York Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly and then got a call from the New York Times about working there and became a staff writer.

Carr had a drink again in November 2002, later realizing that he had stopped thinking of himself as an alcoholic and figured drinking not a big deal, and in 2005 he could have killed his daughters while driving drunk and then was arrested for a DWI while driving solo to college night at the twins' high school. He then went to detox for a few days, came out and went back to regular meetings and there's no mention in the book of drinking again. It was a great book from Carr and sad that cancer took him when it did, regardless of how lucky he may have been to have made it past his drug and alcohol abuse unscathed.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fast Company & Businessweek writing

Some particularly interesting recent business writing included pieces from Fast Company Magazine as well as Businessweek. 

The March 2015 issue of Fast Company was its annual "50 Most Innovative Companies" edition, with a number of interesting companies featured. Three that stood out as particularly compelling and that I hadn't heard of before are: Fuhu, maker of the Nabi tablet for kids, American Giant, a US apparel (largely men's casual to this point) company, and Revolution Foods, a company providing healthy and affordable school lunches. From the same section on innovative companies was a "Sectors" area accessible from the top right with the "10 Most Innovative Companies" from each of 30+ different areas of business and one last interesting thing to note from this issue of Fast Company was "Medium's Secret Weapon: Design" by Om Malik on Ev Williams and his publishing company.

The shortest of the recent Businessweek pieces of particular interest was "Tesla Wants to Build a Battery for Your House" by Dana Hull and Mark Chediak on a coming offering around energy storage and recent issues of Businessweek magazine had two feature stories to note here. "Boom" by Nick Summers was an entertaining tale with the subtitle "No American ATM Has Even Been Robbed With Explosive Gas. The Same was True in Britain - Until 2013. Now There Have Been More than 90. Inside the Birth of a Bomb Spree" and "The Semiconductor Revolutionary" by Ashlee Vance was on the material gallium nitride, or GaN, a faster and cheaper potential replacement for Silicon in transistors.

Great sports writing - by Rosenberg, Drehs, Tomlinson & O'Neil

Four great recent pieces of sports writing included a feature for Sports Illustrated and three for ESPN.

The story for SI was "A woman fell from a stadium, a man saved her; here's what happened next" by Michael Rosenberg. It tells the story of Brittany Bryan, who fell 45 feet from the top of the O.co Coliseum after a Raiders game and Donnie Navidad who attempting to catch her. It's a great piece by Rosenberg about a stranger saving someone's life and the situations an excess of alcohol can potentially lead to.

The first ESPN story to note here was for ESPN The Magazine with "From the Grounds Up" by Wayne Drehs. About the New Zealand city of Christchurch and rebuilding from a 2011 earthquake that killed 185 and caused widespread damage, it's a compelling story of how sports (in this case, hosting matches from the Cricket World Cup 2015) can help bring people together.

The other two great pieces of writing for ESPN had related Sportscenter video segments and the first story was "And He Shall Lead Them" by Tommy Tomlinson. So many of Tomlinson's features seem to have such heart to them and in this piece he tells the story of Lester Cotton, current Central High School football player and future lineman for his hometown University of Alabama. It was a really cool look at someone doing well out of a difficult environment and a 14-minute video segment provided a view into the poverty level that many Central students are raised in and efforts from head football coach Dennis Conner.

The other excellent piece of writing for ESPN was by Dana O'Neil with "Austin Hatch is an Uncommon Man" on the University of Michigan freshman basketball player who survived two small plane crashes, each of which killed members of his family. Hatch's is an amazing story that's well told in writing by O'Neil and for Sportscenter in a 16-minute video segment.

Also, there's not a written piece to note here, but the 12-minute ESPN video "Catching Kayla" on high school distance runner Kayla Montgomery competing while afflicted with multiple sclerosis is really really good.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey was an interesting book that he compiled on the creative process, or daily routine of creative work, employed by 161 writers, artists, composers, and other creative types. Currey in 2007 began writing a blog devoted to writing up the daily rituals of creative people and he later was contacted by a literary agent who thought it could be a book and in the introduction Currey describes the book as a greatly expanded and better researched collection.

Currey in the beginning notes that the people featured in the book (sometimes in their own words, sometimes not) ran the gamut in terms of daily routine around creative production, with some free from angst about their work, some tortured, and most somewhere in the middle. A definite common theme throughout is of people being the most productive in the morning, with an idea that comes up from a few of the people being to wake up with the sun. Many of those featured would be done by noon with creative work and some worked at night, but they seemed the exception.

Additionally, I found of interest the concept of triggers to starting creativity, whether the aforementioned concept of starting work with the sun in the early morning or the story of Twyla Tharp, dancer and writer of The Creative Habit, whose ritual is hailing a cab to go to the gym after waking at 5:30 each morning.

To aid in getting going each time, Earnest Hemingway wrote of stopping at a point that he knew what would happen next so he could pick it up easily the next day. Related to this idea of steps towards creativity was the section on author Jonathan Franzen as even then it wasn't noted in the book, it reminded me of reading in Time Magazine how Franzen would write on a computer without Internet access to avoid the temptation of distraction.

Even with these various habits and tricks, author Joyce Carol Oates wrote of how difficult it is to get a first draft of something done, which completely brought to mind writer Anne Lamott, who in her great book on writing, Bird by Bird (which I wrote about in 2012), wrote of the concept of starting out a writing project by producing "shitty first drafts" and being totally ok with that.

In terms of output from routine, I liked the story of writer Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) who rose early, was at his writing table daily at 5:30, and wrote for three hours daily. Trollope felt that three hours would produce what someone should in a day and took his routine to the level that if he would finish a novel in the middle of his three hour stretch, he would then start writing a new one. Another person featured with a set daily plan was Stephen King, who starts writing around 8:00 or 8:30 and has a daily quota to reach of 2,000 words, usually hit around 1:30.

I liked the book by Currey as it had a lot of interesting material on the creative process, but at times found myself wishing it had a fewer number of people (and perhaps more current ones) featured, with text that went deeper on them. Additionally, one thing that might have been nice would have been an organizing of the book into categories of creative work done by those featured as that would have made more apparent any commonalities between how those in different fields, such as writing, art, music, approached the creative process. All that said, it was an interesting read on a fascinating topic.