Ten years ago, my very first column appeared on the Internet. It was the first thing I’d ever written that wasn’t a research paper. It wasn’t very good. It was a sarcastic weekly sports recap for an erstwhile sports website which no longer exists. The rest of the work I did with the site has largely disappeared along with it, though traces can be found on old Deadspin pages and using the Internet Wayback Machine. I’ve been doing it [writing things]— in some form — almost every single day ever since. From those inauspicious beginnings as an a telecommuting creative agency traffic manager in Buffalo moonlighting as an unpaid sports blogger, we’ve reached an office-dwelling senior brand copywriter moonlighting as a freelance columnist, Medium existentialist, music critic, sportswriter, singer-songwriter, startup consultant, copywriting mercenary, event host and occasional podcast guest. Oh, and along the way, I spent a solid two years reviewing beer. Really. I have the receipts.
How did this all happen? By failing at everything else. Let me explain.
November 17, 2007: I’m a traffic manager for a very small creative agency, making $30K per year, working from home, living in Buffalo, New York. And I was bored. I wanted something creative to fill in the dead time I spent *not* asking designers if they were ready to hand things off to the client. (Which, I mean, you can only do so often in a shop of eight people.)
Based off a tip I got from a friend, who noticed how much I loved sports and how much I loved to tell stories, I responded to a Craigslist Ad saying “Aspiring Sportswriters Wanted.” Here was my cover letter:
Subject: Re: Aspiring Sportswriters Wanted (Craigslist)
Dear [NAMES REDACTED],
The blood-sucking journalistic types ruined my sportscasting dream. I was at Syracuse University, the incubator for all great sportscasters. The year was 2000. I had set myself up with the Campus News crew. Among the latest and greatest flavors of National Prominence with whom I worked included [NAMED REDACTED] (of the Washington Post), and [NAME REDACTED] (of the 9ine on Yahoo.) These folks were incredibly gifted at what they do. There is no disputing that. I am not that fucking gifted.
However, other self-important blowhards born with silver spoons for appendages treated me with all the respect of a Redskin fan in Philadelphia. “You don’t belong here.” I lost my confidence, and my faith in the journalistic profession. I got a psychology degree. Glamorous, I know.
Flash forward some 7 years, and I can think of no greater opportunity and honor, than to become a part of your rapidly expanding team, and to report on the positive aspects of sports and how it relates to our American fabric as a whole. I hope I am considered for the local Buffalo market, or for wherever you see fit. I thank you for reading this elongated and overly detailed account of my adventures. I hope you consider me.
John F. Gorman
November 19, 2007: I’m hired. For free. With the promise of future payments. The site’s name? The Love of Sports.
January 24, 2008: I’m promoted to Managing Editor of the site. I’m working long hours for free, but it didn’t matter. I’m in “sports media.” Which is something I kinda always wanted to be in anyway.
February 20, 2008: I’m given my first press credential, to a Niagara University basketball game. I took terrible phone pics and wrote a 1,000-word write-up of how mid-major college basketball feels both big and small at the same time. I was invited back as a musician to play the college’s spring festival.
August 8, 2008: The sports site had become marginally successful, so I was given the opportunity to launch a spin-off site, The Love of Beer. I was given complete creative autonomy and ran the blog like a Pitchfork parody where instead of music I covered booze. Within months, I had microbreweries gifting me free beers to try and rate. I did something along the lines of 10,000 pageviews per month, and the site — while not profitable — wasn’t hemorrhaging cash.
May 5, 2009: Due to a falling out between the two partner/owners, the series of sites folded and all my work vanished from the Internet — preserved only a printed-out binder of everything I’d written to that point. For my efforts, I made $200 total.
September 1, 2010: One of the partners from previous site asks me to, again, be managing editor of a new sports site, called Gossip Sports. I enthusiastically agree to do so. I bring aboard a team of 20 writers and hand out assignments, all while writing 3–6 posts per day. Again, with the promise of payments.
December 2010: My day job is a telecommuting position, and so I could live and work from anywhere, so after a fair bit of traveling, I permanently move from Buffalo, New York to Austin, Texas.
April 11, 2011: Running out of money, and using my sports columns as a portfolio, I pick up some freelance work doing startup branding and web copywriting. Drawing on my creative agency experience and emulating the copywriters I worked with, it is the first time I am able to prove I can write things beyond sports and beer. Here’s an example of that. Over the course of the next year, they’d offer me two other projects. I made $1,500 in total.
September 1, 2011: I am laid off from my traffic management position at the creative agency, and hired to be marketing director of a boutique publishing company on the same exact day. When I say boutique, I mean shoestring. So when I say “director,” I wasn’t “directing” anybody. Just doing any and all “marketing”-related things — including copywriting. Here are examples of that.
March 9, 2012: After months of routine panic attacks, I am fired as the managing editor of the sports website (total compensation: 1 HP laptop), and as the marketing director of the publishing company, and as the freelance copywriter, all within the same week. This led to an incredible downward spiral that culminated in me losing my health insurance, having my car repossessed, and losing my home. This has been exhaustively documented elsewhere. (We’ll get back to that.)
March 13, 2012: I am hired on at a site called Rant Sports, which is an objectively terrible click-bait cauldron of filth and bile and auto-play videos. They stipulated a minimum of 50 columns a month per writer, and often assigned projects like “20 Hottest Female Volleyball Players” which I would conveniently forget to write. Yet, I managed to find time to talk about Flow Theory, talk about how sex shouldn’t be regarded as a trophy, conduct an in-depth interview with a rising sports personality, and get re-tweeted by Mark Cuban for the best take on First Take in the history of takes.
September 17, 2012: Using my cobbled-together portfolio of everything I just showed you, I’m hired on at a very large technology company in Central Texas to write banner ads. It is my first ever day job where I am specifically paid to write things. I am also sleeping in a rental Jeep at a Wal-Mart parking lot.
December 1, 2012: I leave Rant Sports and sportswriting altogether. Total compensation in five years of sports and beer columns: $310 and an HP laptop. I close on my new apartment. That said, I parlayed all those beer blog posts and content farm material into scratch-made Wordpress sites into a job with health insurance making (a little) more than the American median income, at a stable and reputable company. I made out just fine. I laid low and spent the next couple of years working this job while playing music on the side in Austin.
July 17, 2014: I join Medium.
March 18, 2015: I write “How I Got Here,” the story of my 2012. It got the attention of a couple prominent people, and so I used it to apply to write at a publication called The Cauldron. They accepted me.
April 16, 2015: Another team at the company I work for engage in a bidding war with the team I was working for at the time for my copywriting services. Both offered substantial raises and promotions. I took slightly less money to switch teams so I could go from product marketing to branding. This turns out to be a fortuitous move.
July 25, 2015: I write this. It gets talked about on ESPN Radio and got the attention of the President of the company. It does the most traffic I’d ever done, and I end up going on a couple of radio shows to talk about it.
September 15, 2015: The Cauldron enters into a publishing syndication agreement with Sports Illustrated, and some of their writers are brought onto SI.com proper. Guess who was one of them?
December 7, 2015: After over three years of working on contract at the very large technology corporation, I am brought aboard as a full-time direct hire. A substantial raise accompanied this offer. I have been doing exactly this ever since, which included a fairly extensive rebrand, and most of the web copy you see on this site here. I currently make 3x what I made in 2007 at this day job alone. It should be noted: I absolutely love working here. My boss is great. The team is talented. The culture suits me well.
November 30, 2015: I write a profile on a woman attempting to qualify for the Olympics in marathon. This piece caught the attention of some documentary makers, who use her story in the film.
2016ish-present: In addition to my sportswriting, and now that I’ve developed a lengthy history of copywriting and branding, I start a referral-only side-hustle as a freelancer. I’ve worked with East Coast pizza chains, Real Estate companies, Event Management firms, Clothiers, Nanotechnology firms and other creative agencies. I’ve given speeches. And, yes, I’ve even done a bit of music playing in venues around Austin. Total compensation from all these various odd jobs in the past three years: north of $40,000.
July 8, 2016: I torpedo my sportswriting career with a series of tweets that still haunt me. SI and The Cauldron sever ties with me. The Cauldron folds not long after (for ostensibly unrelated reasons). I retire from writing sports.
August 21, 2016: But I wrote one last thing about music. And this piece on The Tragically Hip’s final show gets picked up by Huffington Post and The CBC. I spend the next six months drinking myself into a black hole and falling into a deep, dark depression.
April 14, 2017: That depression cost me my relationship, and so I chronicled the rise and fall of the love I had just lost with a piece called “Everything Was Beautiful and All Of It Hurt.” I wrote it without the intention of publishing it, it was found unlisted by Stephanie Georgopulos for Human Parts. So I made the decision to publish it, and it became a genuine viral hit. My follower count jumped from 100 to 1,000 — and I decided to start writing again.
November 19, 2017: Words of mine are weaponized as an inspirational Instagram selfie caption by a young woman I do not know, from either Sao Paolo or Washington. I made sure to reach out, sincerely thank her and ask if I could post a screenshot for posterity.
Present: In the over 100 Medium pieces since, I’ve picked up some 175,000 views and 6,000 followers in about eight months. Here are eight of my favorites from the past year:
I am read in India and Pakistan, The UK and the US, Brazil and Kenya. I’ve found homes at The Mission, P.S. I Love You, Thoughts And Ideas, Personal Growth, and Cuepoint Selections. Hell, I even got back into sportswriting.
So yeah, that’s about the size of it. I planned none of it … just took the road as long as it would take me, and when the car broke down (or when I crashed it myself in dramatic fashion), I just started walking until I found another car. I just kept trying to tell stories — and I suppose that’s kind of the larger point.
Whether I was telling my story, a brand’s story, an athlete’s story, a journalist’s story or a musician’s story, whether I was an essayist, author, ghostwriter, brand strategist, speaker, radio guy or musician, it’s always Story Time. Doesn’t matter the office, the medium, the website or the reason. If there’s a story to tell, you bet your ass I’ll be there to tell it. I’m excited to see what I get to say in the future.
Will the success last? Based on historical events, I’d bet on no. At least not forever. I’ve failed early, often, late and spectacularly. But I’ve always come back. I’ve always found a way to return better and wiser — and on my own terms. And what better tale to tell than a “comeback” story? Or “rags-to-riches?” What’s more Apple-Pie American than that? But to be up … you gotta be down. And I’ve been down a lot — whether drunk, depressed or destitute.
But I believe if you have a passion for something, and you’re unwilling to give up on it, and you’re flexible enough to adapt to what people want, you can do what you love and make a decent living at it. Hell, maybe even better than decent. It’s just about falling in love with the activity itself and not marrying yourself to any real end-goal. And, as you’ve noticed above, I‘m not really one to make plans or work toward anything in particular. My only quasi-goals from the outset were:
- Tell stories
- Find health insurance
- Say “yes” a lot to anything that allows me to do #1 and #2 at the same time
Yeah, so, I just go where I’m asked to go and let those things go where they’re supposed to. I found cool opportunities, met some amazing people, talked sports and music, opened up about my life, made dear friends and developed a preposterous resume — a meandering body of work that’s taken me farther than I could’ve ever imagined.
As for the future? I want to, when it’s all wrapped up, be able to walk away from this earth knowing I did some good things that helped make people feel a little less alone, a little more loved, and a little bit more understood. I think I say those three things in particular because I think that’s what we all want at our core: to feel a little less alone, a little more loved, and a little bit more understood. I think all other goals are means to those ends. I don’t know what shape my next decade will take. I don’t know whether it will be here or someplace else. I don’t know whether I’m closer to another rise or another fall. All I know is I’ll be there listening, waiting for the next great story to tell.
So cheers to 10 years and to 10 more and all that. Since this is my career now, I suppose I ought to inform you that if you’d like a copywriter, ghostwriter, blogger, editor, columnist, songwriter, speaker, event host, podcast guest, startup consultant, brand strategist, blogger, or if you want to say hi … congratulations: you just read my résumé.
For inquiries: johngorman100 at yahoo dot com