Sunday, December 05, 2010

Column How-To (or not-to)

My grandfather, Cal Alley, was the editorial cartoonist for The Commercial Appeal from 1945 until he passed away in 1970. He was asked at some point how long it took for him to produce a cartoon and his answer was "ten hours and twenty minutes ... ten hours to work up the idea and twenty minutes to draw it."

As a freelance columnist with a biweekly column, Because I Said So, in that same newspaper, I feel the same way about writing. However, it takes me about a week to work up an idea and thirty minutes to write it (all tinkering and editing after it's written I put on a new clock).

Deadline is Monday before the Thursday it's due to run and I like to go into the previous weekend with at least an idea. Even if it's only a theme or a word, I like to know what it will be about. The writing is just heavy lifting, not even so heavy at only 500 words. If I don't have an idea as we slip into the weekend, I'm a little worried. If I don't have one by Sunday, I start feeling a little panicky. And if it's Monday morning with no column, then full-on anxiety comes with that morning's coffee. And at over two and a half years and more than 60 columns, ideas aren't quite leaping from my pencil.

It's a hell of a thing to have space every two weeks to write and say whatever you want, something from your own head and heart that will go out to thousands of people. It's work I'm proud of and don't take for granted and I want for each one to be the best one. This is self-defeating, of course, but that's my aim every fourteen days. 

It's Sunday morning now and I find myself in the panicky stage as I'm not quite sure what's in store for this week's column. There's still time, though, I'm telling myself. Over and over I'm telling myself that. I'll give myself another ten hours of thinking, though, and then I'll begin sketching something out for you.


Keith said...

This is a problem that I run into as well. As a freelance writer, we only get paid when we write something. I've found that reading other writings will spark ideas for me. But of course it's tough to get through other roadblocks to writing as well. I talk about some of those roadblocks at

StaceyW said...

LOL, I relate to that panicky feeling when an idea hasn't hit or a source hasn't come through at the eleventh hour. I've never written a regular column, though, so I haven't had that particular brand of panic.

Good luck! I'm sure this week's column will be the best one yet. :) And the day's still young - maybe one of your kids will plow a tricycle into the Christmas tree and do the heavy lifting for you.

StaceyW said...

Except of course that it's Tuesday, so the Christmas tree incident will have to go into next week's column.

I need coffee....

Stacey Greenberg said...

my deadline is tuesday at 2;30, sucker.

i usually panic at noon on tuesday.