For 22 years, I was a writer for a family-owned weekly community newspaper. My main job was the high school sports beat. When I wasn’t busy with sports, I wrote features about local people. Some of my favorites: A message in a bottle found in a river 200 miles downstream from its origin, not far from our office and the bride whose cancer-stricken dog lived long enough to walk her down the aisle. I also wrote about local history, new businesses, artists, writers, actors, musicians, hobbyists and collectors. As our editor used to say, “We can’t make too big a deal about anything.”
And then, suddenly, it was over…
The newspaper was sold to an out-of-state conglomerate. They quickly cut the page count by half, and said good-bye to all the long-time employees, including me. I walked out, leaving behind a wall full of Keystone State Press Awards.
During my years at the community paper, I wrote three books on local men who were obscure baseball hall of fame inductees…so baseball history is my wheelhouse.
With a wife working full-time and our only daughter away at college, I was home all day with little to do. So, I did what I have always done — I wrote. Perusing a comprehensive baseball website, I found a minor league team in Upstate New York that had won a minor league pennant with a miraculous, come-from-behind win streak 75 years earlier. I researched and wrote a story about the team, and sold the story for $50. Then, I wrote and sold stories about two Pennsylvania cities on the anniversaries of their last professional seasons in the 1950s. I wrote and sold a story to another Pennsylvania city about its minor league history of players, which included two Native Americans.
On the strength of those stories, correspondent opportunities opened up for me in a local city daily paper. So, I started working from home at my leisure, often with baseball on in the background, again writing about local history, anniversaries, new businesses, artists, writers, actors, musicians, hobbyists and collectors. Unemployment restored 60 percent of my pay, and my correspondent stories, worth $60 to $100 each, nearly restored the rest.
Being out of an office, I found that I had an excess of creative energy. I began to write short fiction. Spitball, a baseball literary magazine, accepted my first try – no pay, except in confidence. I tried fantasy, science fiction and mystery. I got a lot of flat out rejections, but a lot of, “we’ll pass on this one but would like to see more,” as well. After 76 rejections from paying markets, I sold a story to Mystery Tribune. I’ve sold two more since, and two have been converted into podcasts.
It’s been four years since I was let go from the community paper. I’ve made about $40,000 corresponding and freelancing in those four years. I’m getting Social Security now, and a small pension from the paper, and I’m writing more than ever.
I could have let the loss of my 22-year career devastate me. But, there are SO many avenues in the writing profession. Without any specific plan or direction, I just kept writing, and I didn’t give up. And once again, I get to make my living doing what I love! To me, THAT is success.
Jack Smiles is a former full time newspaper sports and feature writer a currently a feature correspondent for Times Shamrock Communications and a freelancer. He lives in Wyoming, Pennsylvania with his wife Diane. They have a daughter Sadie who works as Correspondent Specialist in the office of the governor of Pennsylvania. Jack is the author of 3 books:
“Ee-Yah”: The Life and Times of Hughie Jennings, Baseball Hall of Famer
Big Ed Walsh: The Life and Times of a Spitballing Hall of Famer
Bucky Harris: A Biography of Baseball’s Boy Wonder
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