Jeff Pearlman

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Why it matters

I taught my first class of the semester at Manhattanville this morning, and while standing before the students my mind drifted to the whole CNN/Twitter thing of the past 1 1/2 weeks. Specifically, I was thinking about my relatively thin skin, and why the foul comments particularly offend me, and why even the negative comments about stories sting to a certain (but lesser) degree.

The answer, I believe, is because writing—if you genuinely care about the product—is personal. If you’re someone who just writes straight news, or merely blogs regurgitations of the work of others, or half-hearts the whole thing, well, of course you wouldn’t care. But when I write for SI.com or CNN.com or even for this blog, I generally bleed it. I don’t take positions I don’t believe in. I don’t make bold statements for the mere sake of making them. I write it because it’s how I feel. It means something to me. A lot to me.

A lot of writers would share this take. Gary Smith once talked about making every word count, and I try really hard to make every word count; to focus on the buts and whats as much as the names and lengthy adjectives. It’s personal, because it’s what I love doing. So, yeah, I don’t love the insults. But I don’t view it solely as a character flaw. I view it as someone who cares.

And that’s what I have to say about that.

PS: My 4-year-old can’t get enough of the above video.

  • Graham

    I can appreciate that. I have to write a lot for my masters program and it is excruciating when my hard work is not received as well as I had hoped.

    Maybe there is a balance in how to receive criticism. If it is my professor giving the critique I will try not to take it personally and attempt to use that criticism to become better. However, if some fool reads my work and criticizes from their own ignorance in a disrespectful manner I should not give them my time nor my consideration. Those poor souls who sit in the grey twilight “knowing neither victory nor defeat” have nothing to say to me that is worth listening.

    I hope you listen to those whom you respect and respect you enough to be honest and encouraging.

    Thanks for your writing. Though I don’t agree with everything you say, I appreciate your honesty and how you express it.

  • David

    Cool post. Here’s a thought:

    All criticism, from any source or delivered in any manner – belongs to YOU after it’s been given. At that point, it’s up to you to dismiss it, or react to it, or judge it or … allow it to ruin your day. Why not choose to let it educate you?

    I was in Toastmasters for years, and most people try to build self-confidence, and so criticisms aren’t much … but neither are they very helpful. The harsh critics are the best ones … they’re the most honest. But what they would tell me was what THEY think. I came to understand that it didn’t matter whether they were right or wrong … only that if I were going to be increasingly effective as a speaker, I’d have to understand that a certain percentage of folks would TAKE it the way this kook was taking it, and then I had to either take it into account or not.

    The material you write is personal, but the WAY you express it can always be improved. You’ll never get 100%, but let the critics teach you how to come close. the better you get, the more convincing you’ll be, and the more folks you’ll convert to your own way of thinking.

    There’s a great bit of ancient Hebrew wisdom that says:
    “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.
    He who ignores discipline despises himself but whoever heeds correction gains understanding.”

    • Jeff Pearlman

      great post, david. thanks.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life