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.