Several times over the last month, surely coincidentally, I have been asked how it is that I can write a daily column. The rejoinder is trivially obvious: that every day I write a daily column.
There is no deep understanding required. If you don’t do the work, the work won’t get done. And so the answer is to sound like my father: self-discipline! If you want to be a blogger who everyday writes a column, you must everyday write a column.
So much for how: on to why and what.
First why. Like all writers, even sort-of-semi-professional bloggers, I write for two reasons: I love the sound of my own voice and I desire money. Just as with the staff of the New York Times, I am convinced the world would tend towards Utopia were it only to follow my advice. I am therefore determined to issue this advice as often as possible.
This conflicts with the one piece of advice from my father that I have never been able to follow: “Never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” (Luckily, this is one that has evaded him, too.) I justify my loquacity on the grounds that this website is the only way I have of people with money noticing me and then, with luck, hiring me. And if they hire me, I can eat and perhaps make the rent.
Now what. In an particular episode Rumpole of the Bailey our barrister is on a cruise and made to attend a lecture given by a pompous mystery writer with the theme, “How I Think Up My Plots.” Here then are how I think up my posts and what I think of them.
1. Wake up at 5 am. Stare at screen in the dreadful realization that all the ideas I had yesterday for topics have gone missing, have evaporated completely from my consciousness. Look at email hoping for inspiration—which I often find, thanks to you, my loyal readers—drink coffee, stare out window in a blank daze, refill coffee, realize that I have real work to do and that deadlines loom, finally start hacking out something on the one or two areas in which I have some expertise.
2. The trick is to carry a notebook everywhere, jotting ideas into it as soon as they occur. Noble plan, but I have never mastered it. I sometimes tote the notebook, but I can only rarely be bothered to open the damn thing and write anything. Do you know how long that takes? In the rare instances I manage to scrawl a pearl or two, I can never later understand what I meant.
It’s not just that my handwriting is notorious, but I have never learned to summarize intelligently. For instance, just what in hell did I mean by the note, “Utility Bill”? There is next to it a drawing of a stick figure. Did I mean this to be Bill himself, in a kind of atrocious pun? Or did I have in mind this is how one looks after the monthly mugging by ConEd?
3. General advice: try not be bore and avoid clichés like the plague. Unless used ironically, and even then, when one is seen, rip it out. And not just rip it out, smack yourself on the wrist, and look at yourself in the mirror with a look of superior disdain. If you knew my high school teacher Sister Dorothy, you’d know just what I mean.
4. You never know which columns will be popular. I have tracked this and have discovered that the posts which receive the most traffic or discussion are those which are written on the order of twenty minutes. If I don’t care about them, you will. The funnier I think a joke is, the flatter it falls.
5. There are only two kinds of blogs, lists and columns. I have no advice for list writers. But if you write columns, stick to standard length, which is about 750 words. Columns much shorter than this turn into lists. If you must say more than space allows, break it up across days. People don’t have the patience to read longer works on a computer screen.
6. If you ever become truly stuck for topics, write about how you are stuck for topics.