The next generation of outdoor writers
Every other fall semester, SUNY Plattsburgh English lecturer Jack Downs teaches an outdoor writing class. I have been speaking to these classes as a professional member of the outdoor media since 2012.
Prior to joining the Outdoor News team, I was a freelance writer, and was published regularly in Plattsburgh’s Press-Republican. I’m also a SUNY Plattsburgh Alumni, and love taking the trip down Memory Lane.
Over the years we’ve had some interesting conversations and dialogue in these sessions. Each of the five times I’ve engaged these students, many of which are out in the real world now, I’ve met with a group that comes from diverse backgrounds and interests. Some are English or journalism majors taking the class to fulfill a requirement and know nothing about the outdoors. They might come from New York City, the farm country of Western New York or be somewhat local.
Others might hike, fish, camp or even hunt and are taking the class to learn how to better communicate about these interests. A few, over the years, including one young lady this year who is really into downhill skiing, wants to do this outdoor writing thing full time. God bless her!
I’m living proof that it can be done, but it’s getting harder and harder. I spoke with this girl about looking for opportunities specifically in the skiing industry; product reviews, destinations and such. At one time I had similar aspirations to be an RV writer. I also stressed the need to look outside of your main interest.
Since 2012, one message I’ve passed on to these students has not changed, and that is how fulfilling outdoor writing can be if you can get your nose in the door. I tell them to get published, get paid, and never turn down a writing opportunity. Most of all, be willing to tackle any topic.
When it comes to things like hunting and fishing, it takes time to break into those writing interests. You have to do some living and get some experiences under your belt. Many writers, this one included, don’t get started until they’re in their late twenties or well into their thirties.
Not so with active topics like hiking, kayaking, or better yet, true, hardcore reporting on things like the environment. Invasive species seem to be an ongoing source of story material.
I also tell these students to have fun and reflect that, when they can, in their writing. After all, outdoor activities are recreational activities which people do because they enjoy them.
Also, having a part-time gig as an outdoor writer that provides supplemental income is beneficial, especially a few years from now when they enter the working world, are building homes and starting families. It’s the best part-time job I ever had.
When the weather cooperates, Downs like to do these sessions with me outdoors. So this year we met at the campus field house. After taking a tour through the most recent issue of New York Outdoor News and explaining to them the difference between news, features, commentaries and columns, we walked down to the Imperial Dam on the Saranac river. The controversy surrounding the dam has not only been documented in our publication (of which they have tear sheets), but is a compelling local news story. It was icing on the cake, and a perfect opportunity to show them what outdoor writing can be.
Who knows if any writing careers will blossom from this group, of if they have from past groups, but it sure is nice to meet once in a while with young people with such aspirations, and who have an open mind.