How I Write: Mike Rutherford — Sports Writer
Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.
This week we hear from founder and author of CardChronicle.com, Mike Rutherford, who introduces himself as follows:
I’m 29-years-old, I graduated from Trinity High School and Bellarmine University here in Louisville, and I also attended Brandeis Law School for a short period before accepting my current job. What could have possibly pulled me away from a life of writing that completely prohibits any hinting at the F word? Well, I am the college basketball editor for SBNation.com, which is very F bomb friendly, and am in the middle of my third season with that gig.
I’m also the founder and author of CardChronicle.com, a Louisville sports blog (although we’re not supposed to use that word anymore) that I started all the way back in 2007. Additionally, I co-host a weekly radio show on ESPN 680 and do a variety of other (legal) Internet things.
How I Write: Mike Rutherford
Location: Louisville, Ky
Current project: CardChronicle.com/General college basketball coverage insanity
Currently reading: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
- What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
I’m probably best known for writing blog posts – which I suppose is sort of an all-encompassing title for a number of different types of writing – for my website, CardChronicle.com. Most of the work requirements for my full-time gig revolve around editing, assigning and laying out, but I do write weekly features and occasionally standard news stories. I also write a weekly column for The Voice-Tribune here in town, and do freelance work for various online publications across the country.
- When/where/how do you write?
The where is the easiest to answer, because it’s almost always from home, which I really like. If you’re reading something written by me before, say, 1 p.m. on a weekday, there’s a pretty strong chance that I wrote it topless and in pajama pants. Go ahead and store that image.
As far as the when is concerned, the biggest drawback of always needing to know if something important is happening in the world of Louisville sports or general college basketball is that it prevents you from being able to dedicate yourself to more exhaustive pieces during the day. This being the case, it’s extremely rare that I write a feature anytime other than really late. Like really, really late. Like, I can tell you the last five anchors of “Up to the Minute,” the CBS news show that airs before the first morning local news (I’ll love you forever, Melissa McDermott).
There are few things I’ve written over the past five years or so that I’m really proud of which weren’t formed at least partially between midnight and 7 a.m. If I’m being distracted by emails or if I’m worried that something is going to break on Twitter, then I’d just as soon not even attempt to pen something contemplative or overly insightful, because I know I’m going to look back and be disappointed. Plus, I think it’s been scientifically proven that your brain is at its creative peak when you’re the most tired. I can’t remember where I read that, so you’re just going to have to pretend I’m someone reputable and roll with it.
How do I write? I’d say with reckless abandon and a complete disregard for any sense of dignity. No, but seriously, I do it with words.
- What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
Music is out if I’m doing anything where I actually have to think, but I do like having it on for busy work. When I’m up really late, I like to have the television on but muted. I also like to try and find a live program, because otherwise I feel a little disconnected and depressed. It sounds weird, but it legitimately helps me when I have a visual reminder that there are other people in the world awake and accomplishing things while I’m working…I just don’t want to actually interact with them during the process.
I don’t necessarily need to roam the house or a room, but I like working with the peace of mind that I can if I need to. If I’m in my room and there are people downstairs, or if I know my fiancé (see, you’re thinking this is all really weird, but it’s just normal enough that an incredibly beautiful woman agreed to put up with it for the rest of her life) might ask me for something, I’m totally unable to dive to deeply into anything.
If it’s daytime work and I haven’t had coffee yet, then I need coffee. I try to save that until after the busy work of the morning and my 10 a.m. editorial call is over. Eating is always a special surprise.
- What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?
Whenever you’re in the brainstorming stages of any piece of writing, there’s always one idea or one line that pops into your head and makes you think, “that’s really good.” Start there. Start with what you know is good, and then work backwards once you have a better sense of what your story is or what you’re trying to say.
As for revisions, I think what works is different for everyone, but for me comfort is a huge factor. I can respect the hell out of a person and still not trust them (or myself) in a situation where I’m asking for their help. I’m extremely stubborn, but I’m also really passive in situations where I think my time might be wasted. So when I’m working with someone who I respect, but who I’m not really comfortable with, I’ll invariably spend the entire time pretending like I’m listening and wondering if they’re buying it. I have to work with someone who I know I can joke with, and who I know I can get into an argument with and not have it be a big deal.
Also, if it’s a long-term project, make sure to take some time between finishing your first draft and beginning your first revision. I know that’s pretty standard advice, but I’ve ignored it multiple times and ended up digging myself into a huge hole that could have been easily avoided.
- What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
Keep reading things outside of your genre. From November-March, it’s really hard for me to find time to read things outside of game recaps and player profiles, and I think my writing really suffers as a result. I’ve forced myself to avoid that trend as much as possible this year, and I think it’s had a positive effect. Spending time with writing that’s so dissimilar to the type you immerse yourself in for most of the day helps you access an area that would otherwise stay neglected. It’s been a huge help for me in keeping things fresh and distinctive.