This is a major milestone for me. This column, this one right here, is my one thousandth newspaper humor column. Exactly 1,000 weeks or 19.25 years ago, a small town newspaper publisher took a chance on me, and agreed to publish what I now laughingly call a humor column.
Not laughingly because they were good. Laughingly as in "it's so cute that you think you're funny." My first columns are so awful that I can't even read them. If you have any copies of those papers from the second half of 1995, please set fire to them.
I first met my publisher, Al Nich, at a meeting of the Kosciusko County Democrats. I asked if he was looking for any columnists for his paper. I had written a couple of funny essays earlier that year, after trying to write a complaint letter to Fresh Air With Terry Gross. It ended up being nothing but jokes because I don't like direct confrontation. I prefer a more passive-aggressive approach, like secretly signing people up for bedwetting mailing lists. After that letter, I thought I showed some promise, and wanted to keep going.
I said, "Well, yeah, we met at the Democrats meeting two weeks ago."
"Then welcome aboard!"
To celebrate, Al and his wife took me to lunch, and we talked about the small town newspaper business. Of course, being a small town newspaper, they couldn't pay me anything, but I was so grateful for the chance, I was willing to do it for free. We agreed that I would get paid if they ever raked in the big bucks.
Nineteen and a quarter years later, and we're all still waiting.
I'm not complaining though. Without that break, I wouldn't be where I am today. So I gladly churn out this column every week. Also, because I don't know what I'd do if my Thursday nights suddenly freed up.
If you want to be a stickler about it, this isn't the 1,000th column I've written; it's the 1,000th column I've published. I occasionally run reprints if I'm traveling for work, on vacation, or sick. But I've never missed a deadline in all that time.
But the Wakarusa Tribune and Mishawaka Enterprise still publish my work, week after week, and I'm just as grateful today as I was back then.
Because they gave me a chance to experiment and learn. They didn't say anything when a piece had a typo, and I had to rush over a correction. They didn't say anything when I tried telling stories with only one punchline at the end. They didn't say anything when I fancied myself a great first draft writer, only to discover I was a horrible first draft writer two months later.
Which makes me wonder if they read these things at all.
Being a beginning humor writer in the early days of the Internet also helped me hone my skills. I joined an email discussion list called The NetWits in 1999, and we're still going strong. I started my own website, and submitted guest articles to friends' sites. I was even listed on a web page of funny writers, only to be removed six months later.
When I emailed the owner about it, he said, "I just don't think you're that funny." I was so mad that I practiced, studied, and read everything I could find about writing, so I could become funnier than anyone else on his list. Then, when he would beg me to rejoin his list, I was going to write something so witty about how he could go have sex with himself.
Eighteen years later, and he still hasn't written. Also, his humor website is long gone. Also I don't remember his name. So I get the last laugh, because I get to commemorate his short-sightedness in my 1,000th column, while he's lost to a sea of anonymity, where I hope he's nibbled to death by buck-toothed lampreys.
Not that I'm still bitter.
This column even helped me realize I was really a writer. That's an important moment in most writers' lives, because many writers don't like to call themselves that. We're afraid a little man with a clipboard will tell us there's been a terrible mistake, and we're supposed to be claims adjusters, so we keep quiet about it.
It was around 2000 that I finally told someone I was a writer. The little man never showed up, and no one laughed at me, so I kept saying it until I finally believed it myself.
Because of this column.
I became a book author. I have co-authored three books on social media and personal branding, ghost co-authored a fourth, helped write two books that have never seen the light of day, and am currently working on another book, plus a super-secret writing project.
Because of this column.
I own my own writing business, give talks at different marketing and writing conferences, and people hire me to help with their own writing projects. I have written radio plays, stage plays, and magazine articles. All told, I've written over three million words in my career.
Because of this column.
So, when I celebrate this milestone, I'm not just commemorating 1,000 deadlines, or 1,000 fart jokes (more like 3,487 if you want to be a stickler about it). I'm using this time and this space to celebrate the man and the newspapers that gave me the break that led to a nearly 20 year span filled with words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, books, and a career.
All because I was a Democrat who couldn't write a complaint letter to Terry Gross without cracking jokes. Now I'm looking forward to the next 1,000 columns over the next 19.25 years.
I'm also thinking another lunch may be in order.
The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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