The other day my daughter asked me how I managed to complete the massive job of not only writing a book, but printing it, publishing it, storing it, distributing it, marketing it, and selling and shipping it.
I told her the same way she became one of the leaders of her college soccer team: one step at a time.
I remember dropping her off at Ohio University in the July before her freshman year. Before I could get back to Pittsburgh, she was calling me crying and asking me to turn around and pick her up, that she didn’t want to play anymore, that she wanted to enroll in the local community college.
She was looking at the entire mountain instead of the first step, so I convinced her to take that first step and just practice and stay for a week.
Three years later she’s a team leader, honor roll student and enjoying as good a social life as possible during a pandemic.
For me, the first step was kind of like hers. It was done before I even got to the point of writing the book. She went to Athens highly conditioned; I went to my desk in January of 2020 ridiculously organized.
I had kept detailed notes from my 12 years of covering not only Troy Polamalu, but the Steelers in their entirety. I transcribed all of my interviews from every day I had spent in the locker room. I also kept all of my stories, blog entries and the numerous smart-ass remarks from The Morning After and other such streams of consciousness I had delivered to my readers behind the paywall at SteelCityInsider.
I also checked back with sources of off-the-record information from old interviews to see if they could now be used on the record.
For an example I’ll use my interview of scout Mark Gorscak from the night we watched Ben Roethlisberger play at Miami, Ohio. I used that info off the record back in 2004, but Mark was so uncannily on-the-money about Ben’s ability that I knew he would approve of me putting it on the record some 16 years later. And he did.
So, that was the organizational process. I began sorting through all of that at the turn of the new year with the idea of writing two books, one about that era in general and one about Troy. But since Troy was the spiritual leader and only Hall of Famer on a defense that led those teams, I opted to merge the two, thus the enormity of this book.
Detailed interviews were next. There’s not much to say about interviewing people other than this: listen.
I don’t think I listened well enough. Sometimes you think about your next question while your subject continues to talk and you miss obvious follow-ups.
Sometimes I shake my head about college journalism classes. You don’t need college to learn how to talk to people. You. Just. Need. To. Listen.
It’s a skill on which I’m still working.
Then came the writing. I prefer early mornings, and that’s how I started in early March.
I was into my third month of meditating, a New Year’s resolution. I had begun studying the “mindfulness” genre about that time, and one of the “gurus” had written a book called The 5 AM Club. I heard his spiel on YouTube, ordered the book and began taking his advice on spending the 5-6 a.m. hour exercising, meditating, praying, journaling and reading.
I received the book in early June and immediately became precise with his plan. It was easy for me because I’m always awake that early, and with the gyms closed it was the right time to begin my “prison workouts” at home, and those are perfect for 5 a.m., especially when you have to hit the couch to meditate for 20 minutes and don’t have time to drive home from a gym. As an aside, I like how push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, etc. have made me more lean and taken away the bulk and nagging pinched nerves that come with weightlifting.
But anyway, that hour, that golden hour, that sacred hour, became the perfect warm-up for my two-hour writing blocks, and in those blocks I slowly but surely laid down the tracks of this book.
It was a long process. It still is, dealing with a minor glitch that Amazon’s sprawling automotons have turned into a major glitch, with Barnes & Noble’s old-school retail approach, and the other current-day problems that come with self-publishing. But, really, it’s better than letting these people take all the money.
So I took it one push-up, one meditation, one prayer at a time, and whenever I do get brave enough to read back through my own work these days, I still laugh and cry at various points. I’m that happy with the product.
Whenever you put your heart and soul into something, you often are.
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