by Florrie Binford Kichler
Publishing Is Easy . . .
. . . compared to writing a column.
My father wrote a weekly column for the Indianapolis Business Journal for about six years. He observed, “What I discovered is that if you really know something about a topic, 800 words is not enough to do it justice, and if you don’t, you can get into trouble in 300 words or less.”
What Dad didn’t say was that it’s better to get into trouble with 300 words than stay safe with none. My hat is off to journalists and bloggers and anyone else who has to come up with an idea for a recurring column. Seven to eight hundred words doesn’t sound like a lot—unless they’re yours.
Most months are easy, but now and then, the proverbial writer’s block hits and I find myself staring at a blank screen, praying that email—even from the Nigerian solicitor offering me $6 million if I reveal my bank account number for the big deposit—will arrive so I can go check it instead of writing my column.
For those of you out there who may have to produce 700 to 800 words on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, here are some lessons learned from experience:
Don’t procrastinate. Trust me, the longer you wait, the worse it gets. A short time frame under intense pressure does not good writing make.
Don’t look on the Internet for inspiration. Two hours later you’ve got great ideas for travel, the next book to publish, that new bedspread you’ve been promising yourself—but the cursor is still blinking on the blank Word screen.
Don’t look at your father’s old columns, past presidents’ columns from 1995, or 20-year-old issues of Publishers Weekly for ideas. Retro works in fashion and in bringing classic books back into print—not in writing monthly columns.
Don’t “take a break” thinking that will improve your writing. Taking a break can turn into a week. You will derail your train of thought, interrupt the creative flow, and practically guarantee that you will not return to the piece until an hour before deadline. See the first item about a short time frame . . .
Don’t ask your friends for ideas. Everyone will have a suggestion, but you’re the one who has to turn that great idea into 800 words. You will find yourself searching for ways to let them down without hurting their feelings. There’s something about a phrase beginning with “Why don’t you . . . ?” that practically begs you to respond, “I don’t want to.”
Don’t ask your editor for a deadline extension. On the surface, you may feel you can buy more time. But all an extension does is extend the procrastination horizon, and you still find yourself staring at a blank screen one hour before the new deadline.
Don’t tell yourself, “I’ll get this done and this done and this done and THEN I can write my column with a clear conscience.” Hey, we’re publishers. We all know that we never get everything done that needs to be done. Sorry—this is just another delay tactic that still lands you in front of that implacable (and empty) screen.
Give me a carton of coffee-stained, dog-eared returns, invoices aged 150 days and beyond, and a manuscript that is three months late—all those things I can deal with; it’s the challenge of going from no words to 800 that keeps me awake at night.
Why do I do it?
Each PMA president has a unique style. We use this column for reporting on progress and initiatives in your association, discussing the books on our nightstands, and everything in between. Of course, it’s important above all to keep you informed about our ongoing efforts to improve our association for your benefit.
But equally as meaningful to me is the opportunity this space provides to get to know you through your comments and responses to what I write. It’s what keeps me coming back to that blank screen.
This forum is a privilege, and I am grateful that each month I have the opportunity to communicate with you, our members. Thank you for reading, and please don’t consider this column a one-way street. One of the reasons I’m writing this column is to learn. Teach me.
(Dad, I hope I didn’t get into trouble with this one.)
Warm wishes to all for a happy Thanksgiving!
My virtual door is always open—I encourage you to share your comments, thoughts, and ideas by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.