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Monday, June 25, 2012
Good sports

By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com

Here's how you become a horse race writer.

First, you learn how to write.

Some say this can be done in a classroom environment. It's probably teachers saying it. It's possible to learn how to write brilliantly in academia. But it's a long shot. The best way to learn how to write is to read. Read the greats. By reading the all-time best, you learn what's creative, what sells. Here are a few of the greats from whom you can learn about the most important element to writing, originality: Evan Hunter (who also wrote a million cop novels as Ed McBain), Donald E. Westlake and John D. MacDonald, timeless, young-through-old-school geniuses, each. All are dead. Their writings have endless legs and lives. Hunter's dialogue is like eavesdropping. Westlake is riotous. MacDonald was Travis McGee, an adventurer who knew exactly how the world should work. For my book money, Hunter was/is one of the greatest writers ever. Each novel is educational, entertaining and has an original element to it.

Originality is everything. The best definition of a creative spirit is the ability to do something original. Everything we like, from the great "Mayhem" insurance commercial spots, to the best TV shows, like "Justified," has original elements -- not always plot twists, but unique characters, settings or dialogue.

Once you have learned how to write, the proof being a sale to somebody or something reputable, or the approval of somebody great, you should send something to a person in charge of hiring for a specific field. Sports is a great field to write about because the deeds are unexpected and often beyond belief, the emotions so near the viewing point. Who couldn't write about a miracle.

A bonus to getting a job writing or reporting about sports is the nature of the games themselves: Score is kept.

No matter how well you can write, at some point you have to make a call on the prospective victor. When it comes to sports like horse racing, it frequently comes down to this: The literature, you can keep for a day when the track is dark; be quiet and pick a winner.

Opinion feeds the sports frenzy. But there's a little more to the opinion business than making a loud or smart-mouth point. Sometimes you need to have a CORRECT OPINION! Bad opinions are like ex-spouses. They're everywhere. Picking the occasional winner is what separates the comfortably employed from the anonymous Internet responders with the nicknames of titans.

So here's where we stand.

1. Read the greats, the most skilled and original.
2. Sell something good.
3. Know somebody in the business.
4. Pick some winners.

Writers occupy an offbeat place in show business lore. Writers are not like actors, who have a lot of free time. Most of us have no free time. We're either messing up and learning, or succeeding. Horse race writers in particular attract a special kind of fan or regular reader, not the groupies who fall anywhere near the stock show-biz image. Even when somebody attractive checks in, it's a brain wanting to talk late grass fractions over yielding surfaces.

Horse race writers have many readers as smart as they are.

But that doesn't mean they can pick.

Here's something else awkward. When you pick something correctly, grateful fans sometimes send you stuff. But you can't keep it because if you do, somebody might want a refund on a rotten pick.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.