Thursday, August 04, 2005

How I do what I do

I was talking to someone about being a humor writer a few days ago, when they asked how long I have been doing this.

"Over 10 years."

"Wow! How do you come up with something new every week?"

I'm asked this question quite a bit, and I have a standard answer -- "current events," or "I steal from Dave Barry" -- but then I realized I had not thought about this in a l-o-o-o-ong time. I've published over 530 columns, and I only repeat old colums about six times a year because of sickness or vacation. Even then, I have to edit and tweak those things, so it's not like I have a free week.

So basically, I have no clue how I do it. I just come up with an idea -- hopefully more than 4 hours before my deadline -- and start sketching out some notes on a handy piece of paper. But I invariably forget to write them out, or I lose the notes, and then I'll be sitting in front of my computer at 9:30 on a Thursday nigh, trying desperately to reconstruct my half-baked idea from three days earlier.

I finally got smart and started carrying around a little black Moleskine (yes, with the E on the end) notebook with me -- the same kind Hemingway, Van Gogh, and Matisse all used. It's sitting on my desk right now, never far from hand. I write down all my column and book ideas, jokes, and concepts in it. I also take a day or two each week and write at least 2/3 of my column in it. From there, it's short work to bang out a new column each Thursday night. Surprisingly, by taking 30 minutes on a Tuesday over lunch, I save myself 2 hours on Thursday night. I would be lost without this thing, which is why I wrote my address in the front with a note offering a reward if it's lost.

If you're a writer, or you aspire to be one, get yourself a little Moleskine (you can find them at the large chain bookstores). Even if you're a lapsed poet who I keep bugging about getting back into writing (you know who you are!), use it to write down any ideas that pop into your head. Eventually the words will come and you'll find you can barely keep up with the steady stream of ideas flowing from your pen. This practice has made my column writing much, much easier, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who will listen.

Now if I can only figure out why I do it every week.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Two-time loser

Grrrr! Stupid National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

I submitted three of my best columns from 2004 for the NSNC Column Contest in the "Humor, for newspapers with circulation less than 100,000" category, and not only did I not win anything, I didn't even get an honorable mention?

What's going on?! I've honed my craft, tightened up my writing, and done everything I can to get better. And trust me, my stuff has been waaaay improved over what I did eight or nine years ago. Just this past year alone, I've seen huge improvements over what I wrote just last year. So how these short-sighted, narrow-minded -- wait a minute. That was the 2004 contest. I can't submit my 2005 columns until next year.

Never mind. At least my wife still thinks I'm funny.