Stay humble

When I was just starting out in newspapers, an editor told me there was one thing I should never forget. He said “Look, you have a bright future in this business. But remember: If you get fired or stop writing, nobody will notice. If we leave Beetle Bailey out of the paper, thousands of people will cancel their subscription.”

Beetle Bailey, the eternal competition.

Beetle Bailey, the eternal competition.

I’d bet there hasn’t been a month go by where I haven’t thought of that. It has meant different things to me through the years, but I think what it means to me now is this: Stay humble.

I don’t mean stay humble in how you act … that’s a whole other thing. I don’t think you have to stay humble as a person. Some of the best writers on the planet are some of the most egotistical, and that has nothing to do with it.

No, I mean: Stay humble in how you write. Don’t preconceive. Don’t hesitate to ask questions that might make you look dumb. Don’t linger too long in your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to look bad — DO worry about making yourself look too cool.

And, most of all, don’t ever act like you are too big for a story. Again, I’m not saying that because it’s unseemly and unappealing for a writer to act like he or she is too big for a story. I’m saying it for the writer’s benefit. Those stories that seem too small are usually the best ones.

The same editor who told me that bit about the comics also told me that if you find yourself in a large group of reporters, you’re probably in the wrong place. And I think, based on my own experience, that’s probably true. I’d say many of my favorite stories, maybe even most of my favorite stories, were ones that many people would have passed on as unworthy.

Wonderful, wonderful advice from Joe Posnanski who is apparently one of the best writers out there. I’ve never read him, but now I may have to start.

Incidentally, all of this matches up EXACTLY with the online ethos that we often see missing in the mainstream, print press. We are eager to acknowledge our mistakes, get differing opinions, spend time with non-media people, not buy our own hype and so much more. I’m thrilled that this kind of thinking has aparently long been around in traditional newsrooms. Alas, it doesn’t seem to be present in all of them anymore.

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