Things You Can Learn From A Sports Journalist

The Time Keeper
There’s a lot to learn from Mitch Albom.

I’ve been reading Mitch Albom books for years.

For people who say they don’t have time to read books, Mitch Albom is for you.

The sports journalist and columnist whose career took off at the Detroit Free Press became a best-selling author with Tuesdays with Morrie over 20 years ago, and continues to write touching stories for mass audiences. His novels and nonfiction are compact and easy to read, with deep messages of love, hope, loss, and recovery.

On average, his books are roughly 250 pages and are economically written. His journalistic writing style melds perfectly into the stories he concisely weaves whereby Mark Twain would be proud (“When you catch an adjective, kill it! ~ Twain). Albom’s ability to sweep us quickly into his stories the way journalists do by writing a clear and strong lead (including the who, what, where, when, why, and how of newswriting) translates into his ability to tell intriguing stories through fiction or nonfiction narrative storytelling. As an author and former magazine writer myself, I’ve identified Albom’s three main gifts that others can learn from him. They are as follows:

  1. You don’t need to tell long stories to tell a good story. All of Albom’s stories are poignant, but compact, from Tuesdays with Morrie to The Five People You Meet in Heaven, to the one I’m finally getting around to reading now, The Time Keeper.
  2. Stories can unravel quickly if you know how to get to the point. Albom’s larger stories are made up of numerous anecdotes that help us “see” the characters. Rarely, does Albom tell us anything. Good writers show readers things as opposed to telling readers things so that readers can make up their own minds. Instead, he delves into his portraits of his characters so that we understand them straightaway.
  3. Word choice and sentence composition are everything. Albom whittles down his sentences masterfully; he doesn’t mince words, and he chooses only the best ones to make up his strong sentences. In one short sentence or paragraph or scene of dialogue, he tells readers all we need to know, almost to the point where any additional information would just be fluff. Take this beautiful example into consideration from The Time Keeper:

“I made such a fool of myself,” she lamented.
“Love does not make you a fool.”
“He didn’t love me back.”
“That does not make you a fool, either.”
“Just tell me …” Her voice cracked. “When does it stop hurting?”
“Sometimes never.”
― Mitch AlbomThe Time Keeper

If you haven’t read any of Albom’s works and are striving to be a fiction or nonfiction writer, I encourage you to read some of his books. While they may not be categorized as “great literary fiction,” there are certainly benefits to reading all different types of writers. People who started as journalists have a way of being able to get to the core of storytelling well. For example, legendary writers such as Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck started out as journalists. Elizabeth Gilbert and Anna Quindlan were journalists before they were best-selling authors. The list is a long one, and we can learn from them all.

But watch Albom’s magic unravel as you read one of his books. There are techniques there worth investing your time.

***

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn SignificantBaseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

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