I’ve been in this crazy business for a long time now. I still love it, and I know how fortunate I am to make a living doing what I like to do. I give full credit to my Dad. Back in 1979 I was off active duty from the Marines, doing some freelance writing and selling hunts with a small firm in Santa Monica. I was doing okay, but sort of at loose ends. So I applied for law school, was accepted, and would have started that fall. Then the guys at Petersen Publishing offered me the junior editor’s job at Guns & Ammo. At the time I thought I was a pretty good writer. I’ve gone back and read some of my old stuff, and I was wrong about that…but I had no idea what an “editor” really did, so I wasn’t sure if I should take that plunge. My Dad was a lawyer in Kansas City; up until then my goal had always been to go to law school and go into his firm. This was actually the second time I’d been accepted at the KU law school; the first time was in 1974, and the Marine Corps just giggled…they needed infantry officers a lot more than lawyers! Anyway, I asked Dad what he thought, and I’ll never forget his answer: “Son, you’re going to have to work for a long time. If you have a chance to make a living doing something you like, you’d better give it a shot. If it doesn’t work law school will still be there.”
Well, obviously it worked out. My friends Gary James and Payton Miller pre-dated me at Guns & Ammo, but they’ve both had “broken time.” Today I have the longest continuous run as a contributor to both Guns & Ammo and Petersen’s HUNTING…and a good run it’s been!
In recent years I’ve done a lot of outdoor television. Fortunately, I’ve cut back a bit on TV, but at one time I was involved in five different series, something over 500 episodes altogether, which I suppose is about as much TV as anyone in the industry has done. Eventually you learn to ignore the camera but, unlike some of my colleagues, I have never learned to love it! These days I think it’s important to take a “multi-media” approach, so we do TV, and we do internet and social media—these are powerful tools—but I still think of myself primarily as a writer.
That part is still fun! Over the years I’ve gone from indecipherable longhand on yellow tablets to typewriter, smart typewriter, desktop computer, and finally laptop. What a tool! I’m fortunate in that I can write almost anywhere, and (as Donna will attest) can tune out just about any background noise. Writing the story brings back not just the memories of the hunt, but the sights and sounds. Although I suppose I must have a slight masochistic tendency, I actually enjoy juggling the deadlines and managing the workflow…it’s part of the game, and I must like it because my average output is about eight articles per month, a mix of shorter columns and longer features—and I usually find time for extras like book chapters and such. I’ve never told anyone I write well, but for sure I write fast! I’m pathological about meeting deadlines but, after all, I kind of have to be…with a workload like that, if I ever got behind I would never, ever catch up!
I’ve had friends in the business who are seriously plagued by “writer’s block”—they sit at the machine but cannot get the words to flow. My old friend Gary Sitton was one of the most talented writers our business has ever seen…but he had writer’s block worse than anyone I have ever known. So, just maybe, in order to have trouble writing one must have more talent than I do. Or maybe that day is coming. I worry about it, but when I sit down at the computer, the story is usually there. Here’s how I do it: Understanding some articles are assigned by editors and other subjects I come up with on my own, I keep a notebook with a running list of stories and deadlines. I pretty much know when I have to write a given piece, so it runs around in my mind until it’s time to get it done, and, at least so far, when I sit down to write a piece it’s more or less already done in my head.