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I’m a big sports fan. I’m also a news junkie. At the intersection of those two things is sports writing. Ever since I was a kid I’ve devoured the sports page before reading anything else in the news. Over time I’ve come to believe that sports is just another lens for understanding ourselves. And that means that we can learn a lot about the world from sports writers. We can also learn a lot from them about great writing.
Today, I’m excited to have a phenomenal sports writer join me on the pod to talk about writing. Brendan Quinn covers college basketball and golf for The Athletic. Originally from Philadelphia, Brendan has spent the last ten years or so covering Michigan and Michigan State basketball. And that means I have spent the same amount of time enjoying his work. He writes some of the best feature stories you will ever read and when you listen to our conversation, you’ll understand why.
Brendan Quinn @ The Athletic
Gene Weingarten, The Fiddler in the Subway
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Trevor Thrall 0:00
Welcome to the Get Your Writing Done Podcast. I’m Trevor Thrall, author of The 12 Week Year for Writers. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please swing by your favorite podcast app and leave a review. It really helps. Thanks.
I’m a big sports fan. I’m also a news junkie. At the intersection of these two things, is sports writing. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve devoured the sports page before reading anything else in the news. Over time, I’ve come to believe that sports is just another lens for understanding ourselves. And that means we can learn a lot about the world from sports writers, we can also learn a lot from them about great writing.
Today, I’m excited to have a phenomenal sports writer join me on the pod to talk about writing. Brendan Quinn covers college basketball and golf for the athletic. Originally from Philadelphia, Brendon has spent the last 10 years or so covering Michigan and Michigan State basketball. And that means I’ve spent the same amount of time enjoying his work. He writes some of the best feature stories you will ever read. And when you listen to our conversation, you’ll understand why.
Brendan, welcome to the podcast, sir.
Brendan Quinn 1:19
Thank you so much for having me. I find that usually when you go on these things, it’s always people asking me sports questions as if I actually know what I’m talking about. And I don’t. But when it comes to writing, that’s that’s a conversation. I’m far more.
Trevor Thrall 1:38
The proof is in the pudding, you write a lot, or good news? Yeah, you write a lot. I won’t, you know, I listen to you talk about sports a lot. I’ll let I put that right out there. So I’m not saying I don’t think you know nothing about sports. But I, I have to say I You do know a lot about writing because your writing is wonderful. And I’ve been following your writing for a long time. And so I think people are gonna learn a lot from this conversation today. But I want to start and just ask you to go way back in the Wayback Machine. And did you always like writing? Like, when you were a kid? When did you discover that you actually liked writing.
Brendan Quinn 2:14
Uh, you know, in grade school, I was a terrible student. I had all kinds of issues, paying attention and things like that, and really was not productive with time or anything like that. I was the I was the youngest of six kids. And there’s a large gap between me and the closest sibling. And so by the time I came along, everyone was kind of over it. You know, there’s like, Whatever, man if you work done great, and if you don’t find we don’t care anymore. If I didn’t get the work done, it didn’t get done. And that was typically the case. But I loved sports. Right? That’s cute. I grew up in Philadelphia. So huge Phillies fan, huh. 1993 To go to the World Series, right? I’m 11 years old. So it’s just this that peak kind of Oh, and, and I just devoured the sports section every day. So we had two or two paper town. So it’d be the Philadelphia Inquirer got delivered in the morning. So I read that with breakfast. And then my dad would bring home, the Philadelphia Daily News. Uh huh. Which was the new stamp paper wasn’t delivered. He’d bring that home at the end of work every day. So I would read that at night. And eventually, he noticed I would read all this stuff in newspaper, but I wasn’t reading anything when it came to school. And so he started saying, Listen, if every morning you have to read, I feel like this is always a good, I don’t have kids, but I tell the story often to parents, because I don’t know, it worked. But he said, you know, if you if you want to read the sports section, you have to read three other stories from the paper and tell me what they’re about. And then you can read this section. And so I started doing that. And I started bringing newspapers to go to school with me and I would read, you know, the newspaper under my desk, in social studies, or whatever class it was. And I had this wonderful teacher in seventh and eighth grade A man named John Janda, St. Mathias grade school outside Philadelphia. And he said he noticed this and knew I struggled with with school and doing assignments and stuff and said, you know, what, why don’t you try to write your papers and your assignments the way you would if they were in the newspaper, or if they were newspaper store. And I started doing that, and it built and I just liked it. And I started reading more and I got into you know, got my I’ve graduated from Sports Illustrated Kids. Sports Illustrated suddenly, you know, read Frank the Ford for the first time and fell out of my chair, I’m sure you know, at 14 years old or whatever. And it just kind of grew from there. And yeah, I really, my big attraction ended up kind of evolving into the storytelling process, and how kind of the structure of stories can can come to be and kind of can take you in interesting places and all that. And so it all just went from there.
Trevor Thrall 5:35
That is fascinating. And, you know, kudos to your teacher for noticing and encouraging and to your dad to what a, what a fortuitous kind of strategy by the elders there. That’s fantastic. So obviously, you got a lot of reps in from from middle school sort of onward there. But were you always a good writer? Or did that sort of come with time?
Brendan Quinn 5:57
No, not at all. Um, I don’t think so. At least I you know, I think some of the, some of the ideas were maybe there of, of how to structure stories and things like that. But it all very much came after the fact. You know, in college, I was an even worse student than I was in grade school. I was certainly not focused on writing. But once I kind of got my shit together and focused on what I needed to be focusing on, you know, the bones were probably there had a couple decent teachers at at St. Joe’s who talked in a different way about feature writing than then maybe a lot of people would. And got me thinking about it. And once I, once I learned how to read feature stories, then I learned how to write feature stories. And what I mean by that is kind of being more of an active reader of when you’re in what’s an example? So here’s, here’s a collection of Mark Lieber, which is political profiles found on my desk here, right? So by being a more of an active reader and learning how to read, I would start to read a story like, say, a Leibovich profile and start to ask myself, why is this lead? Why is this quote here? Why is this a transition? You know, what are the time elements being used? Like? Why is the configuration of time played out this way from the character as a younger person to as an older person? Once I read that way, then I started writing that way. So I’ve in no way, I don’t consider myself like, some, like a sit down. creative writer. I don’t do it. I think it’s very much you know, once it’s reported out, I’m probably formulaic, more than more than anything, in terms of, you know, kind of faking it to make it is what I often feel like, it’s
Trevor Thrall 8:03
it to me, it sounds like I think a better phrase for what you do would be intentional and deliberate. Right? You’re not, you’re not just sort of, you know, winging it off the cuff. And it turns out to have a beautiful structure and a coherent narrative. You’re saying, look, there are elements to good narrative, there are the bones and kind of rules of good narrative. And once you had sort of, learned those, you’re, you’re able to read more intelligently, and then pick up more cues because you’re starting to look for that in other people’s writing. I do the same thing. When I teach, you know, our graduate students in political science, they, they start off grad school, not knowing how to read a text very proactively or, or, you know, really analytically, they just consume it and go, that’s the information. But when you teach them to turn around, go, Okay, why is this here? Why is that there? How did they make the argument? Then they have a whole new lab on so now, did you write on the sports paper at St. Joe’s? I mean, sort of the daily paper?
Brendan Quinn 8:59
Oh, well, we didn’t have a daily paper. We had Bert and I would, uh, yeah, here and there, I’d write some pieces. Did a couple things that were okay. But never really went full bore newspaper guy, you know, I never had an internship in school. I didn’t. I thought I was gonna get one at the Boston Globe. And then that like fell through and of course, I had zero backup and then it just then next thing I knew it was, you know, five years after I started college, I was out of college and I didn’t have you know, I had a handful of clips from, from the student paper, no beat experience at the paper. No internship.
Trevor Thrall 9:39
But I wanted to be a journalist at that point. But yeah,
Brendan Quinn 9:42
I knew that I was going to try to take a run at it. I just have to, you know, I had to pay the bills with bartending for most of the time. That’s an honest job. But you know, it’s and you learn how to talk to people too. That’s the other thing that I didn’t probably realize until I got older is, you know, coming For a big family being grown up in Philadelphia grew up my father’s a coach. I grew up around athletics. Like, I don’t have a problem speaking to people, right. But bartending, oddly, later that it probably really helped me in terms of reading people in terms of, you know, starting conversations where there are known things.
Trevor Thrall 10:20
Yeah, that’s really interesting. So how did you land your first job? What?
Brendan Quinn 10:25
Well, I was trying to tell the abbreviated version of this. I was bartending in Philly and was talking basketball. A guy sitting at the bar, named Jim Sullivan. Classes 73. At St. Joe’s, he goes, Hey, you know what you’re talking about, you know, your big, big five guy, you know, what’s your background, and I tell him, I’m St. Joe’s, blah, and I want to be a sports writer. And he goes, I’m great friends with Dick hoops, Weiss, and Deke hoops wise, for people that don’t know, legendary, like Godfather type of college basketball, writing in this country. It’s basically him and John Feinstein would be the closest things to kind of the Don’s of the business. And he goes, would you like to have lunch tomorrow. And so the three of us went and had lunch the next day. I’m out of school at this point. And he did agree to tell the publisher of basketball times, which is a now defunct college basketball magazine, to give me a shot to write a story. So I wrote one story for basketball times, I took that clip, and then went to the Philadelphia Daily News, and asked Dick Weiss to put in a good word for me there and talk to some, some other people who had met through St. Joe’s games, you know, Dana O’Neil, now a colleague at the athletic and Dick Gerardi, who’s one of my great friends now and Mike Jensen, and said, You know, I just need to get a freelance gig at The Daily News, and they let me cover my first game, it was a colossal failure, I’d never written on deadline, but I got another clip. And then another chance. That editor at the Philadelphia Daily News recommended me for a job at the third paper in Philadelphia, which nobody read, it was a Monday through Friday, but it was a job paying 25 a year, you know, and gave me a shot to just go write a lot. It was in a you know, at full time, you got to just do it. You have to just be terrible. Yes, long time and just keep writing and writing and then you figure things out and a wonderful editor there who was like I didn’t know APA style, I didn’t know anything. And and this guy drew Silverman, who was like a graduate of Syracuse journalism school, right, a very proper, came up the right way, had all the internships, and he worked with me on every single piece I wrote on, you know, there’s still the small things that, you know, you would just expose yourself with if you ended up at a real shop, or something like that, because, you know, I work for this paper, nobody’s reading me while I’m applying for, like, the St. Pete times, and stuff I’m going to get hired on. But, um, you know, that was the delusion it took. And but yeah, it was just writing a lot, and just all the trial and error, and I’ve never gone back and read anything from that time, it’d be interesting to do so. But, you know, that’s 15 years ago at this point.
Trevor Thrall 13:37
Yeah. So again, I mean, that, you know, great sort of, you know, pointer for young writers, I, you know, reps, absolutely. And help editors, coaches, people who can help you get better, because, you know, writing a lot is one thing, but understanding what you’re doing wrong and improving it from time to time, it’s also kind of important. So that’s awesome. So, I mean, now you work at the athletic, which is a super cool, you know, publication for those who aren’t familiar with it, I certainly recommend it to anyone. And, and what I think is interesting, and I want to ask you at next is, like, so journalists compared to sort of people who write fiction, maybe in their spare time, or people who write nonfiction, but maybe not for a living, you know, I think they can learn a lot from the way you you have to write because your weekly schedule is is busy, and you have deadlines. And I think the structure of the way you need to produce is is very different from from other people’s, but I think they could learn a lot for it. So can you just sort of explain what is your weekly schedule look like and what what kind of writing do you have to produce on a regular basis?
Brendan Quinn 14:48
So, I cover I’ve multiple beats, for lack of a better term where, you know, for years I’ve been covered Michigan and Michigan State Basketball So those are obviously two teams playing simultaneously in a season. So kind of trying to keep both of those teams covered and traveling for games for each. This transitioning into a slightly different role where I’m going to be doing a little bit of national stuff, and a little bit of Michigan and Michigan State. But then in the summer, I covered PGA Tour Golf. So that’s about five or six months of the year on golf. Six months a year on on basketball, so it is it is hectic. And yet, it’s what I probably struggle with the most let’s start there is, you know, there’s different types of things to write. And it’s, for instance, right now we’re in the college basketball preseason. So I’m writing these these large scale kind of preview pieces that are very much the nuts and bolts for basketball readers, right. This is not feature writing, this is analysis. It is data driven, it is interview driven, it is just breaking down, players positions, how it fits what the team looks like, what the ceiling is what the floor is, blah, blah, blah, right. And then I’m also working on like some pretty intensive feature style pieces, one being a profile, one being a feature on a program. And going back and forth to me, one of the really hard parts where
Trevor Thrall 16:31
you jumped right to one of the questions that was teeing up that want to hear your weekly schedule, I was gonna ask you, how do you balance the immediate turnaround of short stuff on deadline with the longer form pieces that you write, which, by the way, I will just shout them out? They are so good, Brendan, they’re really worth reading. And I’m trying to figure out how you have time to do both?
Brendan Quinn 16:52
Uh, well, I don’t have kids.
Brendan Quinn 17:00
Like, I have colleagues that do this, and they do have children today. Like, I look at them, and they’re, they’re superheroes. I don’t know how that’s even remotely possible. But, uh, so yeah, having having best personal time is certainly helpful. Um, you know, I wish I had a more profound answer to say, like, I map out my schedule this way, that way, and I don’t really, you know, to be perfectly honest, it’s, it’s the deadline, the deadline is the thing. And there’s a reason that I’ve never written a book, because I don’t think I can do it, you know, and maybe I can, maybe it’s a short sighted, but like, the idea of getting up and just doing something that’s not due to me is insane. And I don’t, my brain doesn’t work that way. Like, the other interesting part is that I have found as I’ve gotten older, I used to be the, I’m going to stay up late into the wee hours of the night, and I’m going to write and, you know, I’m going to pour, you know, a little glass of something, and, you know, get all the proper motivation, and I need the right music and all this, you know, nonsense, and, but as I’ve gotten older, it is that is over, it has flipped, I need to wake up, I get up sometimes at 435 in the morning, and that window of time that you know, about 430 to 839 when I have real writing to do, yeah, I have to utilize that time, boom, that that’s it, it is it is silent, there is no music, the phone is away. And that is when you know, I can write 2000 words in three hours. And that’s it, right? And then I can work on it and change things and, and, and, you know, get some editing help and things like that. But if I’m not utilizing that window, where my brain, whatever it is chemically what however, this, you know, what, I don’t know. But if I don’t take advantage of that time, then it won’t. So point being I feel like self awareness, you know, it kind of accepting the way that you work and not trying to pretend to be something else, or not kind of allowing yourself the shortcuts that you know you are prone to. Which which I know I do often. Um, you know, like, I I like the idea of writing and coffee shops and things like that. Right? I don’t actually do it when I’m there. I am not zeroed in you know,
Trevor Thrall 19:42
so Okay, so that’s, that’s really interesting because I’m a huge proponent of kind of the where and when ritual. And I it does absolutely vary by person a lot. I for example, I mostly got tenure working at a coffee shop on State Street. And arbor. Espresso morale, I just I was there every morning at about 830. work till about lunchtime and then go take a break. And then I go over to the Graduate Library and we’re going to Carroll for another two hours like I had my two spots and right when I was gonna be productive, but you know, other people, I’ve heard a lot of people like morning before anyone else can bother them. But I think you really need to have that otherwise, you know, it, it gets too easy to sort of not be in the right place. And then like, well, I can’t get anything done today. No, but but for you. I mean, how do you do this when you’re traveling? And you’re like, I mean, how do you get work done on the road? Or do you just sort of take notes? And then you write it when you get back home? I mean, to be able to do that?
Brendan Quinn 20:40
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s mainly, I would say, compilation of notes. I’ll take it on the road. I’m not I rarely am writing in real time. Yeah, it’s mainly get everything. And like I will, I can’t start writing until I know I’m done. Recording. Yeah. Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you can’t transcribe, right? So on a flight. Yep. All right, I’m on a plane for an hour and a half, I’m going to just knock out an hour and a half of transcription and things like that, you know, use the time where I’m not going to write anything that’s worth a shit, right to get something done.
Trevor Thrall 21:25
So that sort of backup plans for the sort of like interstitial periods of life yet, there are so many of in a day, but you can always be productive on some piece of the project.
Brendan Quinn 21:34
Right? That’s, I think that’s fairly important. I have to go down to Memphis for the next like, three days or so. And I know I’m going to be talking to a ton of people and yeah, I, I’ve been wondering with something like this, if I should be trying, if I should actually try it, and maybe like, write some vignettes every day and just kind of have had these things. I don’t know how that would flow in a story. But you know, just because you’re right, it doesn’t mean you have to use it, but there’s always ways to improve it. You know, there are a number of times where I will compile everything I have. And then and then you know, I leave myself so little time, I’m basically writing one draft and filing that, you know, and that’s just kind of the nature of, of the of the job sometimes.
Trevor Thrall 22:24
So how many stories do you need to write a week? Is there a rule? Do you have a sort of a standard thing, or
Brendan Quinn 22:29
there’s no number like that? You know, when I was at em live previously, you know, he had to write basically three headlines today for you know, that aren’t exactly stories, but yet have three things up there. We don’t have any kind of, you know, quotas like that. I mean, they want you right, so he’s gonna get it done. And, you know, hope that you’re doing enough that you will get a phone call.
Trevor Thrall 22:52
So, so on the on the short, long sort of thing, you know, I hear you on on your podcasts all the time talking about I got a thing that’s gonna big thing come in, you know, big thing coming. But you’re writing all the small stuff. How do you how do you? How do you balance the short versus the small? The long in a week? Do you sort of think yourself, right? Today? Um, I got this one, but like, or do you work out a little bit every day? Or?
Brendan Quinn 23:17
No, I mean, they’re usually done in pretty much one fell swoop, like the big the big things, like when I sit down to write on there, they’re pretty much fun to get done. And, again, very long. Yeah, yeah. And it might, you know, it might be it. At three o’clock in the morning, I’m getting up and I’m doing this and you almost just got back out. Next thing, you know, the sun’s coming up, and you got all kinds of birds on stage. So I don’t know if that’s the healthiest way of doing it. But that’s the way it happens. So yeah, and then, you know, like, the things that you write live, that’s just, you’re there and you’re just reacting and you just got to get it done. But, you know, it’s interesting having this conversation right now, because I’ve, I’ve been having some blockage. And the work it’s haven’t been producing at a at a rhythm that I that I’d like to be yesterday was at a was in Kansas City for big 12 Media Day and wrote all kinds of notes, filled the note pad and got some interviews on tape and went and had lunch afterward. And I figured out kind of plop down at the airport and write and it just didn’t wasn’t happening. Just happening. I get on the plane, okay, I’m gonna get going on the plane, I get on the plane, it’s just not there. And then I get back to my place in Michigan and sit down and it’s not happening. And finally at 1230, I set a call it and say, Well, I’m gonna get up at 430 and do it then file it before my editor basically gets to a desk in the morning, you know, and so that’s what I did. Got back up at 430 this morning, wrote it, everything was fine. But like it’s all It can be a little disconcerting when you need to find ways. Yes, a little phase that it’ll kind of come in. But it’s been this way for about two, two months now.
Trevor Thrall 25:14
Interesting. So, have you had this kind of what did writers know? Maybe not a block, but writer’s molasses does. Is this something that happens to you now? And again, I think most people now and again,
Brendan Quinn 25:24
I think it’s whether it’s just distracted with stuff in life, or it’s, maybe you’re not reading enough, you know, maybe you go through those times where you’re not, I feel like the more you read, certainly, the more likely you are to be writing in a more productive way. But you know, all it takes is one damn Netflix series that you end up, you know, getting stuck to and now suddenly, you’re watching hours of TV, you know, brain become
Trevor Thrall 25:54
useful for your writing, I guess. No, it’s not.
Brendan Quinn 25:57
And I’m trying to, you know, tried to rewatch succession before starting season three, um, that my mind into, into the wilderness. So maybe that all goes back to being self aware?
Trevor Thrall 26:12
Yeah. So that’s interesting to me now. So on the writer’s sort of block thing, like, I assume, just from what you said, That’s mostly about sort of cranking out the stories. And I’m assuming, just give is the blockage mostly sort of, like, the motivation to to sit down and write the words you kind of already know, are there? Or? Or is it like, I just don’t have the brain energy to actually think through the arc of the story? Or?
Brendan Quinn 26:39
Yeah, both. It’s, I think it’s more writing sentences of value, right, as opposed to just writing very mundane, plain spoken, you know, just sentences that this don’t have vivid language that don’t have any life. Don’t we don’t have any creativity to you know or not, are not. Your mind is just coming up with interesting different ways to take a sentence or a paragraph or a story section, or getting into like, maybe, man, maybe we tell the story this way, right? Like and having that spark of an idea to do something. And instead, it’s just like a goddamn book report. Yeah. You know, and then you write a paragraph like that, or two, and you just drop your head on the table, you’re like, Well, this is it. This isn’t going to do it, man. You know, this sucks. And I got a shake something different out of there. And you know, a lot of times you have to kind of step back and maybe read something or
Trevor Thrall 27:48
what do you what do you read for inspiration, other sports writers or other other stuff? Very,
Brendan Quinn 27:53
very rarely. It’s not very rarely. I’d say it’s a mix of sports writing. And I tell them what, it’s all it’s all pretty much all feature writing. No, I don’t read a lot of creative writing. I don’t read a lot of fiction. So it might be just peel off three pages of a, of a Gene Weingarten feature story, right in old one, something like that, that any student listening if you don’t have a fiddler in the subway, which is wine gardens, Collected Works, you’re not doing it right. So pick that up and read all of those and they have nothing to do with sports. But in terms of what I’m talking about that you know, being willing to kind of have a couple of daring sentences here or there or play with language or you know, come up with something vivid you know, Gene I every sentence, every sentence, dude is outrageous. So, you know, his reading something like that. Can can maybe, maybe kickstart you. So there is a there are these kinds of times where you just can’t let yourself get it done just for the sake of getting it done. And that’s, you know, there’s writer’s block the idea of like not being able to write a sentence that’s not what I’m really talking about here. Anyone
Trevor Thrall 29:27
really has that?
Brendan Quinn 29:29
Yeah, yeah. It’s more that thing in very good stuff, you know, you’re excited to do and when you get going, and when it’s happening, and there’s that feeling that you just want to bottle every time like that’s just it’s an it’s incredible. It’s it is a high when the sentences are just flowing in the stories kind of taking itself where go be like, you know where it’s going, but the story is also kind of taking yourself, you know, it’s not autopilot, but you’re also You know, your foot isn’t on the gas at the same time, you know, so it’s just trying to get to that place. And when you don’t get there for a little while, it can get frustrating.
Trevor Thrall 30:12
Yeah, yeah, I hear you know, I, I know exactly what you mean, you don’t always have your A game. And it’s fun. Once you once you know what a game feels like and looks like and you’ve seen people respond to it, you’re hungry to do that again. But I do sort of feel like until me has the pandemic put up. I mean, you’ve been incredibly productive during the pandemic, but did you find it harder, like yet didn’t grind on you the way it did on so many of us?
Brendan Quinn 30:39
It was way more on the writing on the reporting side, you know, so of the type of kind of feature story writing and storytelling that that I kind of am dependent on is access based. And it’s being able to be people and being in such, excuse me situations and seeing things. And
Trevor Thrall 31:02
one of my favorite, favorite pieces that you wrote was the stuff you wrote, when you were sitting behind coach Beeline Michigan’s basketball coach at the was it the Michigan Michigan State game? And you You were telling people sort of the stuff he said it was. And I remember that the audience response to that was so strong. People want you to do it again, like I mean, it is though, because it was just, you know, just like just a very cool, very unusual take on on a way to record a basketball game. And how do you do that during the pandemic, man, all that stuff that that all that narrative that you’re so good at finding and unearthing? You’re you were distant from it. So that must have
Brendan Quinn 31:47
an aim. So like, you know, the, the what would be like one of the bigger stories from the recent past like the, you know, the profile piece I did on Juwan. Howard and the court that he built in the neighborhood that he grew up in, in Chicago like that, that couldn’t have been done over the phone. It couldn’t have been, you know, all the people that I met that story in, in the housing development that I grew up in, in Chicago, it was walking up and knocking on doors, you know, and you know, and you had to see the court I’d be at the court and put my feet on the court right. I had to go sit in these people’s living rooms Well, that’s just not been possible for the last year and a half. So that’s been brutal. Like last year. I went through it to submit like a couple pieces for like the annual us PWA awards, United States passport writers. And I’m going through the list like oh my god, this is just like, awful. There is nothing here. So yeah,
Trevor Thrall 32:51
a little sterile compared to a normal year. Yeah,
Brendan Quinn 32:54
absolutely. Absolutely. We’re getting out of it a little bit, you know, back. And I’ve been on the road basically for work, and last year’s masters. So no rolling now, but let’s hope it stays that way.
Trevor Thrall 33:09
Yeah, yeah. Good Lord willing. All right. Technical details for those who are wonky like me. What kind of computer do you like to write on kind of apps do you use? Do you have any half go to things you use as a writer? To get your stuff done?
Brendan Quinn 33:23
Well, my MacBook Pro, I literally think I fried it today. Oh, no.
Trevor Thrall 33:30
Brendan Quinn 33:33
Oh, I got this computer when i How long is the MacBook supposed to last?
Trevor Thrall 33:38
I don’t know, five, eight, something like that. Now. I got how juiced up it was.
Brendan Quinn 33:42
I got this. I got this MacBook Pro when I went to the athletic. And that was the September or the summer of 17. I think so. fairly old.
Trevor Thrall 33:57
little young to fry it sounds like
Brendan Quinn 34:02
so no on the on apps and stuff. I write in notes, because I liked that it. It syncs to the phone. And you can if you’re in a spot where you need to add a note or whatever it may be. have access to it without your laptop. I like that that you can get to a story at anywhere anytime.
Trevor Thrall 34:30
And it’s you literally write in the least fancy word application that you could possibly write in.
Brendan Quinn 34:35
Yeah, yeah. I don’t I don’t really listen to music sometimes when I do. I I can’t listen to anything that has lyrics. Yeah. So it’s going to need to be instrumental. It’s going to need to be pretty low key.
Trevor Thrall 34:59
No baby filming?
Brendan Quinn 35:02
Oh, no. Um, I do like, sometimes it might be story dependent, where, like the narrative arc if it if it follows kind of those like, you know, up and down and and has a level of you know crescendos that you’re going for, like write writing to like movie themes and stuff like that. It does. It does work.
Trevor Thrall 35:31
And it can was common movie theme that you’d listen to. So when I think of Brendan Quinn writing, what am I gonna imagine? This is
Brendan Quinn 35:37
gonna be embarrassing to admit, but the I like the Rudy soundtrack. I’m being dead serious. I’m being dead serious. It’s a it’s very, it’s got a it’s got a lot of flow to it. It’s got, um,
Trevor Thrall 35:59
your your image just disappeared. Oh, sorry. Oh, sorry. It’s like, it’s a golf shot. There’s that you?
Brendan Quinn 36:08
That’s me. Yeah, that’s me play off of the storm brewing. But I do have a, a Spotify playlist. That’s all various kind of instrumental type songs that I just kind of keep that’s probably up to 80 something songs by now. I’ve been keeping it for years. So um, yeah, I’ll lean on that sometimes. But in terms of like process other than the morning stuff, no, it’s pretty
Trevor Thrall 36:37
crazy. Your coffee guy in the morning,
Brendan Quinn 36:39
big call, I drink way too. Coffee. It gets. It can be the double edged sword where you know you’re relying on it, and you can get you going. But then you cross that line with too much and you get jittery. And then your mind gets scattershot, and now suddenly are useless in a totally different way. So
Trevor Thrall 37:00
yes, now what about? So So one of the things that, that I have noticed, and this has been, especially as I’ve gotten older, that I, and you sort of mentioned that you’ve changed as you’ve gotten older, I now need to get sleep and exercise and like eat right to function at a productive level during the day? Is that something you find? Do you have to live clean to be productive? Are you sort of just do what you do? And it’s no big deal? You’re a young guy. So
Brendan Quinn 37:29
I mean, I don’t, I don’t know what it’s like to live that healthy. So I wouldn’t really,
Trevor Thrall 37:37
I wouldn’t like to either, but
Brendan Quinn 37:40
live the way you do. So now, I probably I got a little bit of a gut. Yeah, I probably still drink too much and eat like shit, I live on the road, I’m on the road 100 to 115 nights a year. So you know that that kicks the fix the shit out of you pretty good. Journalist, as 40 gets closer, I’m going to have to change some things. But you know, for now, I quit smoking 10 years ago, which was the big the big hang up for, you know, I smoked for 10 years. And I told myself I couldn’t write if I didn’t smoke. Now use that as an excuse not to quit for all those years and eventually did and it turned out that the world didn’t spin off its axis and that I was able to write a sentence or two. If anything, was better.
Trevor Thrall 38:33
That’s that’s interesting. Less stimulation, more writing. Alright, so let’s wrap up on a high note. Advice for someone writing. They want to be a good and productive writer, what do you tell him?
Brendan Quinn 38:48
Um, I go back first to what I said about being, it’s not just being a large consumer of writing or reading, right? It reading a book in a day, I don’t think is as productive as spending two hours with one story, you know, and read it, and then reread it and ask those types of questions of why is this written this way? And like I said, all this stuff, right time elements, and then why would this writer earn this quote right here? Or, or? Or how, how was the reporting, executed that could have gotten this information? Right? And think about it in those ways. And don’t hesitate to reach out to somebody and say, I just read this story you wrote, you know, can you answer these three or four questions or can we hop on a 15 minute phone call? It’s like 90% of people. We’ll, we’ll do that, right, because we’ve all been in that person before. That’s right. Like, you know, in our conversation, I rattled off how many people that basically picked me up off the mat, and got me, you know, where where I needed to go. So I talked and pretty much anyone that reaches out what else? You know? There is, especially young writers who want to do feature writing, and this includes me back in the day. Yeah. Just stopping and really thinking about what your story is about, is one of the things that a lot of people don’t do. It sounds so basic. It sounds so basic, but the amount of times that I’ve read something that someone’s written and ask them, what’s the story about? And what’s the theme? And they don’t have an answer that they can say, in two sentences. And if you can’t give what’s called a logline about to tell me what, you know, if I’m an editor, or you’re pitching me a story, if you can’t tell me in two sentences, what it’s about, then you’re not ready to write it. Because you need to find you know, the, what, when we’re young, the biggest thing that we struggle with is we just start writing, we just we have all we we’ve transcribed all the interviews, we have all of our quotes that we like, circled, oh, I’m using this quote, This quote is so good. I’m using this, I’m using this one, I’m using this one. And I’m going to sit down, I’m going to start writing sentences until I can get to that first quote. Now I’m going to put that first quote right there. And I’m going to write these next sentences. And then I’m gonna use that next book that I like. And then next thing, you know, the story that started in one direction is now 100 yards in the wrong direction. And you’re gonna have to figure out a way to get that thing all the way back and finish it and have it make some level of sense. What’s most important is picking out what your story is deciding what your story is about, and then deciding, you know, a theme, or there could be multiple themes. And then thinking about the characters. And really, in your mind, understanding what this narrative is going to look like and what you’re going to tell me about whether it’s the human condition, whether it’s overcoming something, whatever it may be, you need to decide these things before you start writing. And it’s, like I said, it’s really simple, but it’s something that a lot of people don’t figure out until later. And, you know, so sitting in thinking for an hour about a story, there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, and in developing these ideas, because once you decide it, and you really got it. That’s when it have to work over. Absolutely no writing becomes by far the easiest part.
Trevor Thrall 43:15
That is sound and incredible wisdom, sir. Well, this has been a fantastic, fascinating conversation for me, Brendon. Thanks so much for joining me today.
Brendan Quinn 43:25
Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate you having me. And like I said, this is this is far more interesting than talking about sports. This was great. Thank you.
Trevor Thrall 43:32