Create a Writing Life? Absolutely!
by Paul Hensler
It’s not likely that many people get out of bed one morning and suddenly decide that they want to become a writer. For me, as a computer programmer in my mid-twenties, changing jobs to a new department within my company forced me to be more focused on memos that I had to write in order to perform critical tasks. Thus, the importance of communication came to the fore, and perhaps more to the point as someone who almost exclusively read The Sporting News and works of non-fiction, I was further steeped in awareness of what constituted an ability to tell a good, factual story. And as I segued back to the classroom as a late-in-life student of history for both undergraduate and graduate courses, research and writing skills became the sine qua non that made the difference between someone who simply attended classes and a student who would become a historian. The work that I put into earning my Master’s degree from Trinity College was, without a doubt, my watershed moment, if indeed such an achievement can be distilled into a “moment.”
And so it was in the late summer of 2007 – Fifteen years ago? Wow! – that I took the great historian David McCullough at his word, in which he urged aspiring authors to “write the book that you would like to read.” Picking up the Pulitzer Prize-winner’s gauntlet, I embarked on a project that became my first book, which covered a period of baseball history during which time the New York Yankees did not win a pennant. Published in late 2012, The American League in Transition, 1965 - 1975 served as both a learning experience on how to write a full book and to navigate the waters of the publishing world, for better and worse. Even while that work was in progress, other smaller oeuvres also filled my time: short research essays for the Society for American Baseball Research as well as NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture, for which I would also write nearly a dozen book reviews (and counting).
As my work on The American League in Transition reached the finish line, thoughts about a second book began to take shape, and sure enough, my next volume on baseball in the 1960s, with the clever title of The New Boys of Summer, was published in 2017. There followed a biography on Connecticut radio legend Bob Steele in 2019, and last year saw the release of Gathering Crowds, a chronicle of the ups and downs of major-league baseball from 1977 to the end of the 1980s. Just a few months ago, my first self-published book, Pride of the Greyhounds, was released in time to commemorate the 64-game winning streak of the Naugatuck High School baseball team from 1970 to 1972.
This last effort has been most rewarding because of the nature of the project: While I never played for the team, I certainly saw all the important contests and knew several of the players. It was an inspiring era to grow up in, watching the home town team become one of the most dominant in Connecticut scholastic sports while also learning about the general history of the national pastime. But writing Pride of the Greyhounds was a learning process as well as a stroll down Memory Lane: a new book shot through with nostalgia but not at the expense of formulating an objective narrative, all of my previous years of writing seemed to culminate in this single volume, but the added benefit, unforeseen when it was first published, was the personal contact I had with people who bought the book and were enthusiastic to share their own stories and connections to those great players and teams of the past. Whether in written or verbal form, this feedback given directly to me was something that couldn’t have happened – or far less likely to have happened – had Pride of the Greyhounds been handled by Amazon.
Yes, I was responsible for not only each step of the research and writing processes but also the book design and printing phases as well. Yet, thanks to the tremendous recommendations I received for those who facilitated the editing, formatting, and actual publishing of the book, to say nothing of their fine execution of the work at hand, the otherwise onerous task of completing the project was made that much easier. The lesson here is that just because you’ve been turned down by a traditional publishing house, don’t be discouraged about taking the do-it-yourself route to bring your book to your readership. Yes, I was advantaged by over a decade of experience in writing my previous books, but the know-how acquired during my earlier works, in turn, rewarded me at a time when I needed it most.
So, take heart and be brave! Take pen to paper, take fingers to keyboard, and carry on with creating the writing life that awaits – you can do it!