By Nick Wilkinson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Glenn Stout, a freelance writer and longform editor at SB Nation, has painted, sold minor league baseball tickets, done carpentry and shelved library books during his 57 years of life.
But, his life's work has been writing.
The dual citizen of the United States and Canada lives on Lake Champlain in Vermont and has been a full-time writer since 1993.
Stout has written, ghostwritten or edited more than 80 books. His books include "Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway's Remarkable First Year," "Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Changed the World," "Nine Months at Ground Zero" and "Red Sox Century." He has served as series editor of "The Best American Sports Writing" book series since its inception in 1991.
But, he wasn't always a working writer.
In the spring of 1985, a 27-year-old Stout was four years out of college with a degree in creative writing from Bard College and working at the Boston Public Library shelving books. His plans A and B for graduate school crumbled after being rejected from one school and not being able to afford the other.
Stout surrounded himself with books and the people who loved them. Aside from the local poetry scene and a weekly reading and beer fest in his apartment, Stout remained unpublished.
One day at the library, Stout read a few paragraphs about the 1907 suicide of Boston Red Sox manager Chick Stahl. One sentence stood out. It claimed Stahl had killed himself because of “the pressure of managing.”
Stout paused. If the pressure of managing killed Stahl then why hadn’t Darrell Johnson or Don Zimmer, former Major League Baseball managers, done the same? Stout’s intrigue led him to uninformative books, which led him finally to newspaper clippings.
Over a few weeks, Stout compiled pages and pages of printed articles and notes to keep track of what he was learning, Stout began to figure out what happened. Stahl, he said, had committed suicide primarily because of the pressures from an extramarital affair. Subsequent research by other writers has shown that he was already prone to depression.
“When I told my girlfriend what I was learning and she didn’t fall asleep, I began to realize that other people, even strangers, might also be interested,” Stout said.
He started to think about turning all his hours of research into a story.
But he didn’t know where to start. He was editor of his high school newspaper and won a number of local and state awards at the time, but apart from academic papers and poetry, all that was in the past.
So what did he do? He used his resources. At the time, he worked at the library. There had to be a book to help.
And there was. It was called “How To Be A Freelance Writer” and included chapters on pitching the story to an editor, writing a cover letter and other tips.
Stout tracked down the editors of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and Boston Magazine. In a letter, he explained to them his idea, who would read it, how long it would be and why he was the only person who could write it.
Three or four days later an envelope arrived. The Boston Globe thanked him for his submission and informed him that they weren’t interested. The letter wasn’t even signed.
Then he got a phone call. Ken Hartnett, who was then the editor of Boston Magazine, wanted to see him the next day.
Hartnett told Stout he would buy his story on spec, meaning if he liked it he would fork over $300. If he didn’t, Stout would get nothing.
Stout rose at 5 a.m. the next two weeks, researched at the library and worked in his apartment until he fell asleep. When he was done, Stout put the story in a new manila envelope and hand-delivered it to Hartnett’s office, several days ahead of deadline. The book said that would impress an editor.
The next day he got a call. Hartnett said he was buying Stout’s story and asked him what he wanted to write about next.
Since then, Stout has written hundreds of articles and consulted on a variety of editorial projects. Stout writes a monthly column for Boston Baseball and his work has appeared in the New York Observer, ESPN.com, Runner’s World, The Sporting News, USA Today’s Baseball Weekly, Baseball America and Sports Illustrated. He edits longform stories at SB Nation, a sports news website owned by Vox Media.
Stout explains more about his personal life, his days sick in the hospital as a kid suffering from an enlarged heart, his infatuation with television and ultimately his burning passion for the written word, in his foreward published in the 2015 "The Best American Sports Writing."
So what has he taken away from his experience thus far? In an hour-long telephone interview, Stout said the biggest mistake aspiring journalists can make is to get to a certain place in their career and think they have reached the pinnacle.
“You have to adapt,” Stout said. “When I wanted to get paid, I had to find the assignment. I had to get the story that nobody else was telling. There is no direct career path for journalists, so you have to be willing to change.”
And you have to be willing to do it all. Stout said especially in today’s social media-filled world, a young writer must be able to shoot video and talk on camera.
As far as writing for print goes, Stout said, it usually takes several years and several publications to build up a repertoire.
“The only thing you can control is your effort,” Stout said. “You have to bet on yourself in certain cases.”
Stout writes in his blog, “Verb Plow,” that a person attempting to join the freelance world should work a day a week without words. No words and no screens at all.
“It’s important to have a balanced life,” Stout said. “Not everything helpful to you comes from online. When you are out and about, you can sometimes find story ideas. Half the battle of writing a good story is finding a good story.”
A note about the content: This site showcases the final projects of University of Nebraska-Lincoln editing students. Each semester, students pick a journalist or communications professional to profile. This is their work.
This is me. I run this site.