After five years of writing a weekly newspaper column, I’ve come to a decision. At least I thought I’d come to a decision. It turns out my resolve wasn’t particularly strong. So I’m wishy washy. Sue me.
I was very proud when my column ran on Sundays. Traditionally, Sunday is the day for the big guns to appear on the editorial page. I was flattered to have been selected for that slot, although probably unnecessarily so. I’ve run on Wednesdays too. Occasional columns have been timely enough that my editor has chosen to run them on the day they come in. I’ve always enjoyed the rush of having done a good job on the editorial page. That editorial feedback makes all the difference, whether it’s the decision to run the column immediately to take advantage of the timing – or to run it in Sunday’s paper, right under George Will.
The approval of the editor is a big deal to me. And I may be wrong, but it seems likely that editorial respect ranks high up on the list of things-to-get-right-today for a whole lot of writers.In my case, there have been five editors who have been pressed into service, passing judgement on my columns. Tom gave me my initial break. But he retired and handed the reins over the Bill. Bill was a real treat to work for. Bill ran me on Sunday’s without fail. Then Bill died, leaving the task of watching over my work to Dave. Dave taught me a fair amount about how to deal with editors in a professional manner. As editors are wont to do, he eventually moved on to another publication where the grass was allegedly greener. Dave was still employed there when he too died, just recently.
Sitting at a desk all day may not be the healthiest lifestyle in the world. Which is why I have a treadmill and a weight bench in my office. But that’s a story for another day.
Christie was a hard nut to crack. My first female editor, she was the toughest to sell on my abilities. But she saw enough value in my work to run me in the Friday edition. The columns kept flowing and the paychecks kept coming. Christie left for a job up north. Apparently Florida wasn’t her cup of tea in the end.
Joe is my current editor. I like him. Which is why it pained me to write him to say that I wasn’t all that thrilled about writing my column anymore. Budget cuts had shaved my once a week column to twice a month recently. The financial shortfall isn’t of much consequence really. Newspapers don’t pay all that well in the first place. But once a week is a real column. Something a writer can be proud of. Twice a month is something less than that. For the first time in my career, I felt deflated and uninspired when I sat down to write. So I decided to pull the plug, to go out with a modicum of my dignity intact. I wrote Joe and told him I was out. I thought I was done. My columnist days behind me, I began to make plans to spend more time whittling away at the many pages I’ve piled up that may or may not become my next novel.
Plans almost never work out the way you expect they will.
Within an hour I had an e-mail from my editor asking me if I wouldn’t reconsider. Well, of course I’d reconsider. I love writing my column. I love the mail I get from fans and foes. From readers who think I’m a genius, closely followed by readers who point out that I’m an idiot. But I still find it hard to fire myself up to write an occasional column rather than a regular, weekly piece that readers come to love, or hate – but they expect it nonetheless.
Negotiations are reopened it seems, with my editor leading the fight to return my column to its former, once-a-week status. A fact I am tremendously grateful for. Novels will come, one at a time. But the weekly columns provide nearly instantaneous feedback to the writer. That kick is hard to replace.
I’m not sure there’s a tidy wrap-up for this installment – other than to say, “Be good to your editor. You never know when they might be good to you in return.”
Author – Burritos and Gasoline