My dispatches have been erratic for a few reasons:
Time isn't real anymore
They canceled sports
I’ve had just the worst writer’s block
Sometimes the best way to escape a writing rut is to read. So I’ve been revisiting old favorites and finally getting around to things that have been open in my tabs for weeks or months. There are plenty of ways to evaluate writing, to decide just how good an article is. Good writing makes you think. It finds novelty in everyday moments and universality in the most specific situations. It humanizes numbers and figures, holds power accountable, exposes problems and examines solutions. And for me, good writing makes me wish I’d written it myself.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of Good Writings done by Good Writers, evaluated by one simple metric: my burning jealously that someone else devised and executed it instead of me.
Spencer Hall for SB Nation
It seemed lazy to put SB Nation’s entire 2007 football season retrospective package on the list, even though it’s an absolute triumph in the world of headline writing: Even Tennessee was good!; Houston Nutt vs. FOIA, Why 2007 happened; Re-appreciate the Gundy rant. As an editor, it’s exactly the kind of big picture work I want to do: so perfectly cohesive in design, laser sharp in tone, both tiny and huge in scale. I want to know everything about how it was pitched and executed. But we’re talking about writing, so I picked the centerpiece about Les Miles.
“In a season of gambles and black swans, Miles was wearing a ghillie suit at the roulette table.”
In one perfect sentence, Spencer managed to capture the insanity that makes college football magical. We all know the NFL is where the best athletes play on the biggest stage. We come to college football for the chaos, the schadenfreude, the wabi-sabi. Annoyingly, this is not even Spencer’s best work (Buffalo is). Spencer embraces the stupidity of the game and writes with such masterful irreverence that his approach has become the new standard for digital sports content.
Natalie Weiner for SB Nation
It wasn’t my intent to highlight writers recently furloughed (for three months, with no way to know if they’ll return after that) by SB Nation, but it so happens that SB Nation has furloughed some of the best writers in the business. Natalie’s examination of gun violence affecting youth football is gutting. How’s this for an opening sentence:
If you ask Raekwon Robinson, a running back at Malcolm X Shabazz High School and Jaheem Burks’ best friend, what happened was ultimately their fault.
I admire anyone who can tell devastating stories with such care, but my favorite thing about Natalie’s writing is her consistent ability to tie sports into the biggest, most urgent issues of our time.
Mirin Fader for Bleacher Report
Relatively little has been written about female athletes and CTE, presumably because few people thought to look into it. Mirin Fader wasn’t the only person who knew Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, and other high-profile soccer players were donating their brains for research — but she seems to be the only writer who bothered reporting it out into something bigger. That’s how the best stories are made.
Most of those players declined to be interviewed for this story. They've acknowledged the issue through their actions but don't seem to want to talk about it.
Out loud, at least.
There are certainly flashier passages in the story than the one I selected, but I’m obsessed with the way Mirin turns a boilerplate “we called and they wouldn’t comment” paragraph into a perfect transition. You’ll have to read the whole story and see that transition in context to appreciate just how skillful it is. Any writer who’s ever struggled to move from the facts, figures, and explanations part of a story to the people part of a story will wish they’d pulled this off.
Jessica Contrera for The Washington Post
It takes a special kind of talent to turn a mundane NIMBY dispute into a viral sensation, and Jessica Contrera has that talent. If she’d written this story about neighbors in a wealthy D.C. suburb griping about their local dog park the way we’re taught to write in j-school, nobody outside the beltway would have taken notice. And that would have been fine, I guess. But she wrote the shit out of it, and the story went national.
Everyone knows there’s a problem with Chubbs.
Dirt is smeared across his face. His tongue is rolling out of his mouth. He’s surrounded by signs that say “NO EXCESSIVE BARKING.”
But the 5-month-old golden retriever does not know how to read.
With perfect deadpan, Jessica lets the facts of the situation do the talking. And the facts are hilarious because these people are ridiculous. Like Mirin’s exquisite transition, this is inspired execution of a basic maneuver.
As always, here’s a photo of Lavender
This crop kinda makes it look like someone’s Ring camera caught her stealing packages off the neighbor’s porch.
Let’s start a thread
What’s a piece of writing that makes you wish you’d written it yourself? Post the link in the comments and, if you feel so moved, tell me why it’s so great. This is my first attempt at starting a conversation on Substack so please chime in so I don’t look like a loser with a barren comments section.