So, you want to be a columnist? You think this is easy? Maybe you picture me dressed in a button-down shirt, vest, corduroy pants, and penny loafers … sitting behind a computer, deep in thought … smoking a pipe and having a glass of brandy next to me … closing out the world so I can make you love me, hate me, cry with me, or laugh with me. Nothing is further from the truth!
I do my writing prep, in bed, between 1:30 and 3:00 in the morning as my wife imitates the sounds of a diesel truck next to me. I’m fighting with three pillows, a twisted sheet, and a blanket so I can get up and run to the computer to write down my thoughts. But the computer is updating itself for the next three hours. So now I am running around the house in my underwear (which is not a pretty sight), looking for something to write on, and realize I forgot what I was going to write about and now I have to go to the bathroom!
I usually handwrite everything first and let my wife read it. She just laughs and shakes her head at the way I spell words or create new ones. “This isn’t a word. What were you thinking of at the time?”
Then I send my story to my editor, as he will make the final decision to print it or not. “That’s a good one, Haryn. We’ll print it on this date.”
He then gives it to his copy editor. I send in a story that has between 500 and 600 words and get back an 800-word memorandum telling me what punctuation I have missed, what tense I have wrong, and how they would write MY story. [Editor’s note: Avoid excessive exaggeration.]
I try to keep to Ben Franklin’s method of writing – that “good writing is smooth, clear, and short” – so all people can understand it. After all, I am not a writer, a journalist, or the sharpest tool in the shed. I am a storyteller who just pours his brains out onto the page and lets other people sort it out. After counting to 10, I agree with the editor and give my blessing so I can get the story to you.
Now the story is in print and I get back reader comments ranging from “loved your story and how true” to “this is poor journalism and you should be eaten by a bear.” My last editor told me to read a letter he had received about my writing, and then advised me not to answer the person back and to keep a handgun at my bedside.
Most people understand my style of writing and what I am saying in my stories. They get it. Then there is that one percent with no sense of humor or understanding of what I am obviously trying to get across. They only understand cold, hard facts, only think in black and white, and just don’t get it.
I once wrote a satirical story about the lake based on a factual one from another newspaper. Two lake associations wrote to my editor about how I was hurting the image of the lake, it was bad journalism, and I should be dropped into the lake with an anchor tied to my feet. My editor wrote back that if they would read the story, they would see that I had never said what they said I said! To this day, I do not go to a lake restaurant without fearing an unruly mob of yachtsmen will follow through with their threat.
So, you want to be a columnist? Jump in, the water’s fine.