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A "Shoot" Essay on How I started Writing About Boxing
I'm not really a wrestling fan, but a friend sent me a video this week of a "shoot" interview from the WWE this past Monday night when a wrestler named CM Punk bared his soul about his distaste with the backroom politics of the wrestling industry. His "candor," real or "worked," gave me the idea to write this.
It's late, 5 in the morning to be exact, but something has been on my chest all night. Actually it's been on my mind for a long time.
There's a scene in the movie Airheads where Brendan Fraser goes on a rant talking about living the rock and roll lifestyle. He says, "Do you know what it's like to be on the bill and to play for 15 minutes and the only people there to see you are the other bands and their girlfriends? I'm out there in the clubs and on the streets and I'm living it!"
I identify with that. I've lived this lifestyle for a long time. I know the feeling of pouring my soul into an article, only for it to not receive a single response. I know that feeling WAY too well. But I also know "writer's high," the feeling of euphoria that archiving something potentially meaningful brings; being history's first draft.
I've been writing professionally for about five years, and it's gone by in a blur. It seems like just last year I was 19 years old, in college but unsure of what I wanted to do when I became addicted to writing.
I remember the first boxing "article" I wrote, about the third fight with Diego Corrales (RIP) and Jose Luis Castillo, and I remember posting it in different boxing forums and clicking the refresh button every two minutes hoping to get responses. Each response was like gold, and the feedback fueled my addiction.
The reality at the time was, instead of writing these articles that weren't getting posted anywhere other than in boxing forums, I should have probably been more concerned with registering for classes the next semester or getting a job that paid better than minimum wage. I had no idea where writing would take me, but I knew that I wanted to find out.
I remember at 19, when I would be on my rooftop from the moment I woke up until when the sun would start to peep out, kind of like it is as I type this, just writing and researching. And reading. And debating. And learning. I used the rootop because it was secluded, and I could steal free WiFi from there.
I had a Dell laptop, the first computer I had ever owned. It was given to me as part of this scholarship I earned for college. I used it up within a year or so until the battery ran dead and it only worked when plugged in. Then a drug addict who lived across the street from me stole it while I was at work at an IKEA warehouse.
So here I was without a laptop, unable to write and deprived of the one activity that brought me peace and a sense of accomplishment, so I took whatever money I made from my odd jobs and went to the internet cafes in my neighborhood and wrote all day. I'd sometimes spend $20 for four-five hours of computer time, which was a lot to me at the time.
Usually it came down to me choosing whether to eat that day, or write. And writing usually won.
And it wasn't like I was a spoiled teenager who lived with his parents and had everything handed to me. I've had my own apartment since I was 17, and haven't been back "home" since.
But I made sure to give off that image of a spoiled, entitled teenager when I first became visible on the boxing scene. I couldn't explain to people the way I am now that I'm only 19, but live on my own in a one room shack that would later be condemned as an unsafe dwelling. I felt it'd be safer to seem like a college kid with parental backing and few cares in the world other than honing my craft.
Truth is, I supported myself during the early days doing any odd job I could find, whether it be serving tables, doing construction or moving furtniture.
I couldn't even bring myself to tell people my age usually, because of the resulting judgments.
I was a teenager still, had a lot of angst in me, and it showed. My outfits to fights and press conferences told the story: an Oxford dress shirt untucked, a tie, baggy dress or khaki pants, a chain wallet, all brought together by a fitted baseball hat coordinated with my outfit. I was expressing my rebellion and attitude through my attire.
It's funny how things worked out. I was originally recruited by a writer at B-Talk to join their site. This was when B-Talk was THE boxing news website, had all of the original breaking news and was the cool place to be. Seemed like an edgy enough place for me to be affiliated with, and it had a lot of attitude going on at the time.
My whole attitude towards the site changed drastically when a person whom I won't name and is no longer affiliated with that site disrespected me and my opinion on a fight (I believe it was Hatton vs. Collazo) in the chatroom, and I never looked back.
I remember him saying that I was a nobody because I never went to the fights live and that I'd see things differently if I was at ringside like him. Funny thing is, I've now been to many fights live at ringside and I feel I get a better angle at home watching on TV.
I was very fortunate that I was given my shot at BoxingScene instead and have been there ever since, going on five years now. Rick Reeno sent me a private message on their boxing forum offering me a spot there, and I ran with it. I've benefited greatly from being around the highly gifted writers who have kind of taken me under their wings and supported my growth from day one.
That's not to say that it was all smooth sailing, even with BoxingScene publishing my stories. I was submitting stories for free, and never received top billing on the website. Actually, I believe I've only had the featured story of the day spot once in the five years I've been there.
I did understand the purpose of submitting my articles, even if I wasn't getting paid. It gave me an outlet to build a readership, to get a taste of the business and to build up a portfolio. I just did my best to numb myself to the bitterness of not earning a living as a journalist.
The promise of this career choice I was making led me to confronting the biggest lie that I've faced time and again: "I'll take care of you." There are a ton of people out there that are promising writers and other creative people the world, and they never deliver. The best way to go is to use a guarded optimism and to make your own way, because the doors open, but only a few get in.
I remember the first time I got paid to write. It was for Boxing Digest, which made me feel like I had made it. I wrote an article on Nate Campbell just before he won the title, which I did on the house for them to get my name in print for the first time, and then got paid for a subsequent article on Roy Jones Jr.'s comeback fight with Omar Sheika.
Yeah, I've been writing for a long time, haven't been getting paid that long, though.
Today, I still live that writer's life of late nights in front of a laptop, motivated more by intrinsic pleasure than monetary gain. Finally, I feel like I have the life that I was tried to pretend I had as this is my day and night job. I can't believe it, writing is paying the bills.
That's not to say that I'm always happy. I fight over creative differences daily, and I don't feel that I'm used properly by media outlets and I don't react positively to editor re-writes, especially since that usually changes the whole texture of an article. I'd rather write an article for free as is, than for an editor to hack it up and change the feel of it, and get paid.
And I especially don't like the politics, which are plentiful and make this feel like a job.
Some people say that, because I became a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America, and have been published in the New York Daily News and other outlets that I'm a success. That doesn't make me a success, because I'm still not where I want to be as a writer. I'm still looking for my voice, and I still haven't written my defining article.
By defining article, I mean, hmm. Remember in Walk The Line, Johnny Cash's character is asked in his audition what song he'd sing if it was the last thing people would remember of him, which would sum up his experience on Earth? I haven't written that article yet. But I plan on it, in due time.
Wow, it's 6AM now, there's an hour gone by right there. Time to crawl into bed.
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