One snowy night last February, nearly 14 months after I started Purely For Sport, I sat on the blue- and white-striped cushions of the couch in my bedroom with my head in my hands. I couldn’t stop smiling.
My phone buzzed incessantly, lying on the couch next to me. Moments previous, scrolling through my Twitter feed, a notification popped up from ESPN the Magazine columnist Chris Jones.
Earlier that day, I had sent Jones my post, which I wrote based off his “Point After” column in the Mag. He tweeted back at me. Not only that, he liked my writing.
He tweeted my link to his 20,000 followers and my notifications filled up with people saying incredibly nice things about my work. They weren’t the first people compliment my writing, but parents, teachers, and friends are supposed to be nice.
The post climbed to 1,000 viewers that night. I alternated between sitting on my couch, shaking my head in wonder, and pacing around my room trying to expend some of this adrenaline energy. At one point, I did my best Kevin Garnett impression by thumping my chest and bellowing in happiness. I think. I don’t remember everything, but I do recall I was so loud my sister came downstairs to make sure everything was alright.
But back then, in my state of delirium, I didn’t know that it was only the beginning.
The best was yet to come.
Back up even further…Christmas Eve 2012.
Sitting on the leather sectional in my living room, I anxiously put the final touches on the “Pilot” for this blog.
The goal: Practice writing columns in preparation for what I hoped to be a career in sports journalism.
I began timidly, not writing anything too controversial. The first foray into gray was a declaration that the Celtics were primed for a playoff push (they lost in the first round). Then I critically blasted the 2013 Boston Red Sox off-season signings by Ben Cherrington (they went on to win the World Series).
I am never seldom oftentimes wrong in my predictions, but that takes nothing away from the writing itself.
Days, weeks, months passed. I kept writing for Purely For Sport. I continued to inundate my friend’s Facebooks with shameless self-promotions because I wanted people to read, to comment, to talk with me about sports because, as an English teacher told me once, “Fortier, you can read and discuss sports ad nauseum.”
As the posts began to pile up, I tried to take new angles and write about things that weren’t included in the regular coverage of a news story.
As a small blog with few professional contacts, it’s impossible to deliver breaking news updates. Also, because I’m uninterested in opinion-based arguments like “Top 5 NBA Point Guards,” I commented on issues larger than just the game, like marijuana legalization, college athlete compensation, and the true meaning of Fantasy sports.
My first break-through came when my Nana referred the editor of The Houlton Pioneer Times to my blog. He liked it and eventually published me. Seeing my byline and words in ink … I remember the feeling: Elation mixed with satisfaction. I loved it. I needed to chase that feeling.
Over the next year, the blog led me to pursue other passions. I announced games and became a reporter for the local paper on behalf of an independent high school football team in my area.
I never allowed complacency to set in. I kept expanding, reaching higher. Bigger markets, more words. In mid-December of 2013, many inquiries led to two job shadows; one with the television station New England Sports Network (NESN) and another with WEEI, Boston sports-talk. I eventually was offered an internship with WEEI.
This opportunity invigorated me and I doubled-down on my writing. Two months later, I wrote the article about Chris Jones, and that was another success.
The Dennis and Callahan Show, which is where I worked at WEEI, started production at 5:30 A.M. daily. This meant I had to be out of my house in New Hampshire at 3 A.M. every Monday and Tuesday morning throughout the whole summer. It was a great deal of driving on such little sleep, but the experience showed me what it’s like to work in a large, competitive market.
Everything your teachers tell you about a real job is true, starting with the fact that no one cares about your self-esteem. You’ll get yelled at if you make a mistake. You’ll get short deadlines. You’ll be asked to talk about things you know nothing about. You’ll drive across town to get a coffee order – and drive back when you mess it up. By the way, if you can’t speak Starbucks – it turns out a “grande” is only a medium – then you should learn before you become an intern.
Even now, I’m sitting in my dorm room at Syracuse University, where I am fortunate enough to be attending one of the best journalism institutions in the country in the Newhouse School of Public Communications.
My blog was one of the things that got me here.
I don’t know how much of a factor actually having a blog was in admission, but I know with absolute certainty that my every Monday commitment has improved my writing to the point where I was admitted.
At the beginning of SU’s semester, I went to a general interest meeting for one of the media outlets on campus where I tried to impress one of the managing heads with the total views I’ve received on the blog. Admittedly, I came across as a little arrogant, though I certainly didn’t intend to.
“Honestly, man,” he said. “No one here gives a s*** about what you did in high school.”
The guy was only half-right.
He may not have cared about my blog itself, but the skills I have – the skills I learned through blogging – is what he cares about. So either way the blog only helps.
And the writing really has drastically improved. (For proof, read the Pilot.) I’ve become clearer, more organized, and more creative. By committing to this practice every week, it has done so many positive things for me.
I say all this not to brag – and I hope it does not come across that way – but to show people how they can work towards what they want to achieve.
Being at Syracuse has given me so many opportunities, but the best chances have come from working at The Daily Orange, the campus newspaper.
Two weeks ago, I got to travel with the newspaper crew down to Clemson. I chronicled the adventures here.
You always hear that southern culture is all about barbecue, sweet tea, and football, but you don’t truly understand until you go there. I didn’t truly understand how much they loved football until my story blew up.
A notification buzzed across my phone from the WordPress mobile app, “Wow! Your stats are booming!”
Puzzled, I went to look. It had been three days since I’d posted a story, I couldn’t quite figure where the hits were coming from. There had been 300 unique visitors in an hour, then 458, then 537. It kept climbing.
I sat down in the chair at my desk and watched the counter tick upwards. At some point around 1,500 unique visitors in a single day, I called my friend Alex into the room. I jumped up and down, unintelligibly yelling. He shook his head, seemingly unable to believe what he saw.
Somewhere around 2,000 I fell asleep. I woke up and saw that October 27th had brought 3,295 unique visitors to Purely For Sport.
To put that in perspective: In the 22 months I’d been writing on the blog before I posted the Clemson blog, I had brought in just over 5,500 viewers.
The views didn’t stop coming.
I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from until my friend Chandler, who goes to Clemson, called.
“Hey man,” he said. “Notice anything with the views on your blog?”
Uh, yes. I had.
It turns out he had posted the article in the Clemson Class of 2018 Facebook page, which garnered attention and then was shared around. Then, TigerNet.com – a Clemson fan-site with over 120,000 active users – posted it on its front page. From there it was shared to ClemsonInsider.com, another CU fan site, and MaxPreps, a recruiting web site.
In five days the post had received over 10,000 visitors. It still hasn’t stopped, just about 20 or so people still find it every day, over two weeks after it was originally posted.
If you needed any more proof that Southerners love their football, take the fact that a Syracuse fan wrote some nice things about being at their game and it received 10,000 hits. Their zealous generosity and desire to share everything creates such a sense of community.
A friend of mine said later, “That’s crazy. You’re so lucky!”
But I like to think it wasn’t luck. Of course, none of this would’ve happened without Chandler sharing it – and he has my never-ending thanks – but I believe that if you work hard enough and long enough at something, then you’ll write the right thing at the right time. You just need to do it often enough to give yourself that chance.
In preparation for this article I’ve gone back and done a lot of reading over the articles I wrote within the first few months of publishing. In a way, it’s like reading someone else’s work.
The paragraphs are painfully long, ditto to the sentence structure. If I used the same word in close proximity, I’d head over to the trusty Thesaurus.com and plug in the word to find another. Reading through, I see words like “cannikin” and “agglutinate” which I’m not sure I could define for you now.
I used to, as one person said to me, “pull out the SAT booklet every time I sat down to write” but nowadays I sit down the keyboard and go. I’m happier with the results.
Something else I’ve found: One of the best ways to improve your writing is reading. This thought has been echoed by many professional writers that I’ve talked to. Autobiographies by Frank Deford and Robert Lipsyte, as well as every edition of The Best American Sports Writing, are sources of great lessons as well as entertainment.
Another great way is to make plenty of mistakes, which I certainly have throughout writing here.
Starting to write too late at night, starting a post without an ending in mind, and not fully fact-checking are just a few of the things that I’ve learned not to do through this process. Some of those mistakes you only make once.
As I write about the things I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, I remember all the help I received to get here.
Chris Jones, the entire The Daily Orange staff, the professional staff at WEEI and NESN, and the newspapers I’ve worked at have given me indispensable advice that I’ve used to help improve myself as a writer. The editing of some family and a few of my teachers throughout the past two years has also been incredibly valuable.
I also appreciate my mother, Mary, and sister, Sarah, who’ve supported me throughout the process and gave me time when I needed to write and come home early from things so I can finish a post. My girlfriend, Gabrielle, has been equally as supportive and understanding.
You, the reader, also have all my gratitude for making this such a wonderful experience. As of today, 16,631 unique viewers have navigated to this site and for that I am so thankful. Anytime anyone takes their time to read something I have written I appreciate it. I write partly for myself, but also partly for the reader. I love receiving feedback on my work, enjoying the compliments and taking not of the criticism.
From the Clemson article, a woman emailed me to tell me how much she liked the piece.
“Y’all come back now, ya hear?” the woman wrote. “Signed, Granny Wilson.”
How awesome is that?
Deserving of the most thanks, though, is undoubtedly my first editor, my father. He’s taken his time to read my work, put up with my complaints at his notes, and steered me away from clichés the past 100 weeks. He’s been a constant, honest sounding board for my ideas and thoughts who I can never thank enough.
99 Mondays later, nearly 700 days after I first pressed “Publish” for the first time, here we are.
Since then I’ve written features about people I’ve been lucky enough to meet, complaints of an exasperated arm-chair quarterback, and even made things up for satirical articles.
I love writing every Monday. This blog has allowed me opportunities for things I never expected, ranging from the professional (an internship) to the personal (connecting with Clemson fans).
Sometimes it’s taken me until late at night to finish the posts, sometimes it’s a slow news week and I don’t know what to write about. But overall, this is what I love to do. I am lucky enough to know now, at my age, what I want to do for the rest of my life. That’s why every Monday for the past 100 weeks, you’ve been able to find me here practicing what I love, pursuing my dream.
And I cannot wait to keep going.
Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter, Kanye West, and using the word “wicked.” He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.