Saturday, February 10, 2018

Start Writing

When I worked for a newspaper, the editor-in-chief was a kind, bespectacled man, but with a sort of roll-up-your-shirtsleeves attitude toward writing. While he firmly believed good print journalism can be both literary art form and an act of service to society, he also had a small and sometimes unruly newsroom of reporters he had to herd toward a press deadline every day.

News journalism has a standard form they call the inverted pyramid; there's a lead (spelled "lede") sentence containing the most newsworthy priority piece of information. Then other important and supporting details come next. Then, background details that help flesh out a more complete picture.

My problem as a reporter was that my mind did not and does not work that way. It does a lot of sorting of small details first, and then builds a picture of an entire situation. I'm not looking at the time of day, I'm looking at the back of the clock, and noticing how all the gears turn. I'd often return to the paper after interviews, research, and events with such a disorganized swirl in my head that I'd pace the larger circle of the first floor, through the coatroom, through the front office, back through the newsroom and loop through the print shop, restlessly, trying to wrangle my lede into place mentally.

The ticking deadline clock usually caught up with me. "Start writing," Editor would say, more advice than command. And so I would know that regardless of the state of my thoughts, it was time to pour the coffee, get my ass in the chair, and get something to the copy editors before they became volatile.

While his words were primarily about meeting the demands of the news cycle, it also put a simple, two-word directive on the circular conundrum of my writing life. I want to write words that have order and meaning.  But I also depend on words to help me find order and meaning. I cannot seem to have both at once, so I'm both afraid to start (where is the meaning?), but afraid if I don't I will never find it or the right, beautiful, true words.

That conundrum has had me stuck in place for months, both professionally (I still write for a living, though not for a newspaper), and personally. I'm supposed to love this. This is supposed to be who I am. But for the longest time, writing has been an act of pacing the perimeter of the room. For the longest time, I forgot the wisdom of "start writing."

I'm trying to remember it now. I'm trying to put my finger down on a place in that circular conundrum, and write forward toward meaning, rather than trying to pluck all the right words from the swirl of chaos, both good and bad, that life presents to me.

Stay tuned. Because my ass is in the chair.

1 comment:

  1. You have no idea how much I needed this today! I have two articles due soon, a Powerpoint program to tweak, and another program to write from scratch. All of this involves forming thoughts and flow and getting my point across in as concise a manner as possible. I'd rather be out in the yard ... gotta start writing. Thanks!!