My friends in student media are taking a beating these days. One of them had almost her entire staff walk out, blaming her for all sorts of things that a) she didn’t do and b) weren’t her fault. Another of them had the administration at her institution basically kneecap her and toss her out, and the silence from her staff, to which she gave so much of her life, was deafening.
They’re not alone. It seems every day, those of us in academia are told to “eat cake” when we note that we’re doing more with less, our students are at a breaking point and all we seem to get is criticized. We’re learning to live with permanent stress headaches and teach through foggy glasses, all because… well, most of the time we don’t know why.
Students are in the same boat: Working multiple jobs to stay financially afloat, pouring tons of extra time into online-only classes that are variable at best in their effectiveness. And, of course, dealing with people who decide that they get to take out their personal dissatisfaction regarding their station in life on a 20-something who is literally hanging on to everything in life by a thread.
What I have learned about myself over the years is that I am not the smartest, the fastest, the best or the whatever else -est out there. What I do have is a stubborn streak, born of a Bohemian lineage and love of cheesy sports movies, which often leads to me cussing an awful lot as I drag myself forward, thinking, “There’s no way these (expletive, expletive, expletives) are getting the best of me.”
If you have no aversion to some cussing, here’s a clip from the old TV show “Deadwood” that I often play when I think I want to quit at anything:
If nothing else, read the throwback post from a few years ago. I hope it helps.
(NOTE: “Chucklehead” is one of my favorite “Filak-isms” as a replacement for my more traditional outlandish cuss words. I’ve been asked to keep “unnecessary swearing” off of the blog, so I’ll be using “chucklehead” from time to time and only relying “necessary swearing” elsewhere.)
I was perusing my Facebook feed near the end of the year when the Timehop feature pulled up something from about four years ago:
I had completely forgotten about this review someone did on my first book pitch to SAGE. At the time, it was something that really felt like it was going to end my book-writing career before it ever got started. Now, it serves as a reminder why it’s important not to let the chuckleheads out there beat us down.
Back then, the acquisition editor and I were trying to figure out how to put a book together that would teach the basic skills of journalistic writing to students across all media disciplines. We were also coming to grips with the model of “We write, you read” was outdated and didn’t fit with what we were seeing. The ideas of how to do this were scratched out on a random piece of Renaissance Hotels stationary in my almost incomprehensible scrawl and grew to become a giant pitch for how to do this.
After this review came through along with several others, I got a call from Matt Byrnie, the editor who had asked me to build this pitch. I was waiting for the inevitable conversation that said, “It’s just not the right time” or something else that would dismiss me and get him off the hook for this thing.
“I’m not really seeing a book here,” Matt began. “I mean… I actually see two books here…”
In short, he was doubling down on this idea of reaching the audience. He wanted two specific pitches: One for a media writing text and one for a news reporting book. It was a huge leap of faith on his part. It was also a huge leap of faith on my part.
Neither of us knew if the reviews would be any better the second time or if Matt was right about two books being better than one. Even more, I’d never written one book on my own, so what made him think I could actually write two? On my end, I wasn’t under contract for anything at this point, so I found myself pouring a ton of work into not one potentially pointless project, but two. Still, I promised I’d meet his Feb. 1 deadline and I started hacking apart that pitch and rebuilding it into two.
Four years, a ream of wall-sized Post-It Notes full of deadlines and an incalculable number of Diet Cokes later, it’s all finally done and ready for public consumption. The first book, Dynamics of Media Writing, turned out to be a hit (well, as much of a hit as a textbook can be… I’m not going to shove J.K Rowling off the best-seller list or anything). The tone, the features and the vibe matched what Matt and I were trying to accomplish: Give all media-writing students a set of tools they can use regardless of their area of interest or specialty in a way that doesn’t talk down to them. That came out about two years ago and a second edition will hit the shelves in the next year or so.
(The office walls with giant Post-Its full of deadlines… Yes, this is crazy…)
The book that would be “pandering to… students’ interests” comes out tomorrow: The Dynamics of News Reporting and Writing. Even before the Media Writing book started selling, I was working on this book. Again, SAGE took a huge leap of faith, in that they decided to go big with this: Full color, lots of art and more. The workbook and blog became outgrowths of that faith, in that the goal I had was to make absolutely sure this book was going to be worth all that.
Will it be? I surely hope so. Either way, I wanted to make absolutely certain that whatever that chucklehead wrote about me wasn’t going to be true.
And this is what I wanted to tell you all leading into this new year: Don’t let the chuckleheads win. In many cases, people like this are negative for no real reason other than their own insecurities, their lack of ability to do anything better or just because… well, just because. Constructive criticism is helpful, but stuff like the review above doesn’t do anything of value.
Each time you face adversity in the form of one of these people, realize that their sole purpose for existing is so that you can use them to drive you to do more and better work than they believe you can. I like to think of them as the “nobody believed in me” part of the story I tell after I succeeded.
In actuality, the childish part of me actually wants just do this to the person:
It’s a new year, a fresh start and another opportunity to prove some chucklehead wrong.
Go get ’em.
A quick 2020 post script: The first book this chucklehead hated made it to the top 5 in Amazon’s best sellers in journalism and will be hitting a third edition next year. The other one I mentioned? A number one new book on multiple lists and a second edition hits the shelves in two months.
Eat it, chucklehead…