As of early this morning, I have received just under 30 writing samples in answer to my request for new blood for this here blog. This weekend I will begin reading through them and responding. There is no deadline; this particular drive has open enrollment. Still, I hope to make some first-round draft picks as soon as Monday.
I have been impressed by how many responses have come from college students, both under- and post-grad. When I was in college on the banks of the Raritan (so long ago that the whole of Rutgers University fit into this one building), the opportunity to grow up in public was limited to student publications and therefore competitive; the Berlin Wall had been swept away, but the barriers to entry for a budding writer were still high.
As one of those aspiring writers, I used to spend a lot of time with writers' markets, listings of publications that were willing to accept pitches from un-agented strangers. In doing so, I stumbled across The North Atlantic Salmon Fishing Quarterly, a magazine willing to accept "fiction, non-fiction, and erotica about or relating to North Atlantic salmon fishing." I am still, lo these many years later, puzzled by that last category. "Dear North Atlantic Salmon Fishing Quarterly: I never thought I would have a reason to write you, but ..." I mean, who knew you could sexualize salmon? "I thought it was going to be yet another lonely Saturday night for me. I had set my oars and turned for home when the most beautiful salmon I had ever seen jumped into my boat. It had the biggest scales ..."
I raise the story of the NASFQ pointedly. Like all the other publishers then (I beg your pardon) fishing for content, NASFQ did not want to know me, just if I could create something within the categories that interested them. None of the publishers did. They didn't care if I could make words march one after the other. They didn't care what I looked like (always a good thing), my interests, even my educational background. If I hadn't been a man but a hippo with a preternatural ability to type (it has been suggested), they wouldn't have been the least bit interested. Publications aren't people and don't care about people. They care about stories.
You can't put people on pages without making a bloody mess. As a person, I care about people. As an editor, I try to remember that I'm a person who cares about people, but the main goal is stories. That's why writers who don't deliver clean copy, who miss deadlines, who are erratic in their level of quality, don't last long even if they are wonderful people, the brother or sister you never had. The publication is relentless and must be fed, and in the end, patience and sympathy must give way to the demands of white space that must be filled.
As such -- and this is something I wish I had understood better when I was an aspiring writer as well as something that I wish people who are not writers understood better now -- when looking to find a platform, a place to write, don't say who you are, say what you want to do. What kind of stories do you want to tell? A news organization may hire writers, journalists who have an ability to report. That is different from what I'm talking about. Any publication that aspires to more than reportage and reaction, that reaches for creativity, does not hire people, it hires stories.
If you dream of being a baseball writer of a certain kind, one more in a long line who tells us that John Smith's .382 on-base percentage is better than Richard Smith's .375 OBP (it's not, not in any meaningful way), I pity you; an imagination-impoverished field needs not one more pedant before it ruptures like a diseased appendix. I tried to say this last time, and having not yet read the samples I've received, I don't know if I need to say it again, but I will: if the hierarchy of your dreams is ranked so that you want to write first and write about baseball second, then come to me and I will support you as long as I have the means to do so. Bring me ideas. Bring me stories.
The baseball part will take care of itself.