I’m going to bring up someone not worthy of mentioning to make a point.
Several years ago, I worked for a group of weekly newspapers, or what might be known in the vernacular as rags. We had to tolerate a lot of crap from some competing reporters and the public. It’s not easy being the little guy. Some people thought we were hacks, and didn’t mind telling us.
One day, my editor told me to write a piece about the head of the Ku Klux Klan in Connecticut, who happened to live in the town I was covering. When he answered the phone, I identified myself and my newspaper.
“Ah, the big leagues,” he sniped, followed by a sinister chuckle.
I felt embarrassed and humiliated until I considered the source, who ended up giving me the interview (not that I was eager to give him press at all.) But our exchange has stuck with me because he was the ultimate putdown artist. He puffed himself up by putting others down. We have many public examples of this, but plenty of people do the same thing.
If you blog, you undoubtedly can relate. When you tell some people you blog, their eyes glaze over and they seem utterly disinterested. Why would in the world would anyone want blog?
So here’s my answer: I couldn’t care less. I’ve never aspired to write a book (not that there’s anything wrong with it), so I’m not giving up the dream. It may be some people’s dream, but it’s not mine. (Yes, I think I stole that line from a song.)
Everyone assumes that if you write, you want to write the great American novel. People have given me books on how to write a novel (Steven King), but I’ve never had the desire. Someone was kind enough to give me Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which I read during a particularly dry creative period. If you’re feeling the least bit stuck, read it. Her method works.
I don’t want to write a novel because I have no idea what I’d write about, and have a short attention span. I’m pretty sure I’d get bored two chapters in. Fiction writing takes time, commitment, patience and good time management skills, none of which are my strong suit. It also helps to have a plot and characters in mind too.
We all have different strengths, and I know my limitations. A few years ago, I took a watercolor painting class. We were doing a still life. I could not for the life of me get my cup and saucer to sit on the table. I brought the picture home, and my son laughed. “What’s your problem Mom?” he asked, erasing a couple of lines and getting them to sit properly.
I stopped going to the class after that. I wanted to be an artist, but it wasn’t happening. In fact, it gave me a splitting headache. You’ve got to find a niche, and journalism suited me. I’m nosy, curious and enjoy talking to people. I used to say the worst part of the job was the writing. It never came particularly easy.
I’ve had a byline since I was 15. I wrote a glowing review of Jefferson Starship’s Red Octopus, complete with a sketch of the cover, for my high school newspaper Highlights. My older sister Joanne was the editor-in-chief. When I was named to the position a year later, she wrote that she suspected nepotism was involved. I don’t doubt it.
I remember feeling like a pretender following in her footsteps. She was far more intellectual and studious, graduating third in her class, winning the French Award, and going to Smith College. She considered becoming a writer like famous Smith grad Sylvia Plath (not that she wanted to emulate everything about Plath) before turning to law.
I was a bit more laid back. I didn’t get the point of school until about sophomore year. I was more of a free spirit, the kind of kid who was sad on the school bus when summer vacation ended. Things shifted when I became interested in English, and began reading some assigned books to the end.
My focus shifted to journalism during sophomore year at Wheaton College, when I took literary journalism with a reporter from the Boston Globe. We had assignments every week, and he liked my stuff. He encouraged me to get an internship at the Hartford Courant during winter break junior year. I worked in the Life/Style department and wrote an article about dry skin in winter. I was on my way.
Back then, there was no such thing as career placement at colleges. You spent days sitting in front of your Smith Corona electric typewriter sending out cover letters and resumes. I quickly got the message: unless I had graduated from an Ivy league school or had a master’s degree, I wasn’t getting on a big paper. I was welcome to apply when I had five years of experience on a major metro. Until then, get lost.
So I worked at small papers and took a lot of flack. People like to put down the little guy. One reporter was particularly brutal. She quit one large daily to move to a rival paper because she didn’t feel the first one was worthy of her. She ultimately quit journalism to pursue her dream of fiction writing. Before doing so, she left a trail of inferiority complexes in her wake. She made it perfectly clear to everyone that she was too good for journalism.
So is it better to sit in your ivory tower and write things that will never find an audience, or jump into Blogging Central with its free platforms? I never thought I would blog. Up until a year ago, I didn’t even read blogs and wondered why anyone would. But journalism as I knew it changed while I was busy raising my kids.
When I tried to get writing jobs, they were gone. My hometown newspaper doesn’t use copy editors any more. People who’ve been working at newspapers for 30 years as editors are now reporters again, happy to have paying jobs.
There are no writing jobs for a 59-year-old woman who’s been out of circulation for 20 years. Well, there may be jobs, but I can’t cover another Planning & Zoning Board or Sewer Commission meeting. They were hard enough to tolerate when I was 25.
Some of the best pieces I’ve read all year have been on WordPress, and I’m not just saying that in hopes that they’ll spotlight my blog. There’s a site called Longreads featuring in-depth stories about people and places. One of the best things I’ve read on Longreads is a piece by ESPN Magazine about Tiger Woods. It’s the first thing I’ve read that explains his fall from grace. http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/15278522/how-tiger-woods-life-unraveled-years-father-earl-woods-death.
So let’s all keep writing, and hitting the publish button on WordPress.