Derby Writing 101 – Getting Started

So.  You want to find a writer for your league.  Let’s start with the basics.

What does a writer do?

A writer for a roller derby league follows the action at bouts, takes copious notes of how the games go down, and then goes home and writes about the whole thing.  They can do a lot more, mind you…but everything else is built off of that base. Some leagues call their writer a ‘sidelines reporter’ or ‘league reporter’ – that may speak to the position a little better, but we’ll use ‘writer’ in this set of articles.

What can a writer do? I’m a little fuzzy on that.

A writer’s another volunteer; one that helps out by typing instead of (or maybe in addition to) setting up the track or selling merch. Remember: this sort of volunteer labor is done between bouts as well as during.  Here’s a short list of what someone could do for a league:

  • Recaps: Bread and butter of every derby writer.
  • Previews: Before every home bout that the MNRG puts together, I write a short rundown of what’s to come. Talking points, statistics, rosters, and analysis. The sort of stuff you’d expect.
  • Press releases: your league’s PR rep can regularly get overbooked, so giving a trusted writer a bunch of bullet points to compose from can give your league a little flexibility when there’s a crunch time.
  • Website copy: Have you got a tournament coming up or a website redux? Chances are you will need a metric ton of words to drop onto that site. Give them all of the information that they need, a method to drop that content onto the site, and let them go.
  • Longer articles: You are a sports team. You matter. Hundreds or thousands of fans follow you every year. There are stories to be told there, and there are fans who will be interested. If you have a writer, you don’t have to wait for someone else to notice. You can have your story told and deliver that piece directly to your fans.

Now, don’t get stars in your eyes. If you dump all of the above on a brand-new writer who just digs roller derby, you’re probably going to need to find a new writer pretty quickly as they run away from you. Probably over grass, because it’s harder to skate on.

Ok. I get it.  How do we find someone like this?

  • Contact your fans.  Whoever you’re going to find is going to need to love this sport.  One of your supporters has the ability to write – a simple law of averages demands it.  Use your e-mail list or Facebook page to seek them out.
  • Ask around in your community of players and staff. Direct friends and family can be an excellent pool from which to draw.
  • An injured, pregnant, or retired ref or player.  I’d recommend a retired player over one who’s indisposed, mostly because a person with an injury (nine-month or otherwise) is likely going to want to skate again. As a result, you’re eventually going to need to find another writer.

It’s likely that if you put a call out to the fans, you’ll get several people interested in the job.  So you need to winnow those potential writers down a bit.  You don’t need to have a ridiculously high bar. In fact, a high bar is probably going to knock out most everyone. If you expect someone who knows all about the shape of roller derby in your region, chances are that you will be disappointed. It’s a new sport; we have to grow someone into being a wordy know-it-all.

I suggest a few simple requirements.

  • First of all, you will need your writer to be able to show up at every bout.  A person should be able to commit to making six or seven bouts over the course of a year – particularly since they would likely be there in any case. Fact is, derby people rely on one another to be there, no matter how much we raise the myth of shiftlessness. Make sure they can be depended on to be present.
  • Second requirement; they need to know how roller derby works.  I don’t mean that they can pass the ref written exam; just that they know enough about roller derby that they can understand why a team won.
  • Finally, they should be able to point out who the better players are for your team.

Ask them to write a little about the league.  When I got started, the league rep (the fantastic Mitzi Massacre of the MNRG) asked me whether I could tell her what qualities made a decent pivot, blocker, and jammer.  Give them a little time to write something, then it’s time to make a decision.

One note: do not expect a professional writer. I congratulate you on your luck if you find one willing to write nothing for more than a ticket…but don’t hold your breath.

Anyway, read what they give you out loud.  Does it scan?  Is the writing full of spelling and grammatical errors? If you like how it reads and it doesn’t give you the creeps*, you may have found your writer.

Really?  That’s all?

Well. Finding the writer is great, but there are a few other considerations that you will need to work through. Here’s the rundown.

  • What’s your name? Once you’ve recruited the writer, tell her to find herself a name and come to the next bout. Tell them to bring a notebook and a pencil and whatever other gear that they think they need.
  • Who’s injured this month? If possible, start sending her the rosters for the bouts a few days before they occur. This can’t always happen, but it’s a nice consideration.
  • Where can I sit? As a writer for three years, I am of the opinion there are three prime places to watch from; the balcony, the pivot line, and wherever the stats crew is sitting.
  • Here’s a ticket. One thing that you should do is make sure they get to see the bouts for free. The writer is going to be describing at length what you’re doing on the track for you. Be nice and let them in. For most leagues, that just means putting them on the volunteer list. If you want to do something different, go ahead. I wasn’t actually a member of the volunteer staff at MNRG for my first few bouts; they just comped me tickets and I nestled into the stats table. After those initial bouts, I was added to the list of volunteers and had full runnin’-around privs. Worked pretty well. As with much regarding roller derby, your mileage may vary.
  • Press submit. How do you intend to get their writing transferred to the website or other venue? Some leagues have nothing more than a Facebook page, while others have a complex homespun CMS solution. Work out how that’s going to happen. The easiest method is to give the writer access to the account…but that makes a lot of people (including me) uncomfortable for someone who’s not proven themselves a little. I’ve worked with a webmistress intermediary for most of my time as MNRG’s writer (hi, Soy!), but I’ve also done it the other way when we put on our Regional tournament. Figure out your level of comfort and stick to it.
  • Would you mind talking about a blocker or two next time? Before they write down word one, hash out a few things. Think about word length. Consider their level of decorum (i.e. are you comfortable with them swearing?) Talk to the new writer about what you hope to read from them…and under what deadline. I tend to get my recaps out by the Wednesday after the bout, but this can be cut down significantly (at Championals, the deadline was twenty minutes after each final whistle, but those articles were far shorter and had no outside editor).

In the next article, we’ll provide a basic structure that will allow that new writer to gather enough information for their first recap.

* – If someone does give you the creeps, trust your instincts and kindly let them down.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: