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How I Get Most of My Column Ideas

How I Get Most of My Column Ideas

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

"I need a topic to write about," said Karl the Curmudgeon, plonking his beer on the bar, and picking up a pen. He held it over a small notebook, ready to write down whatever I said.

How about European agrarian societies in the Middle Ages? I asked.

"Seriously, Kid," Karl scowled. We were sitting in Rhys Cadwaladr's, a Welsh bar named after the Welsh poet and scholar. We were there to see the finals of the Rounders (Welsh baseball) Premier championship between Grange Albion and Grange Catholic.

I wiped the smile from my face, lowered my voice, and tried again. One of the greatest achievements of European agrarian societies in the Middle Ages was the advent of the single family farm.

"Shut it, Kid," Karl said. "I meant, be serious."

Why, what are you working on?

"I need something to write about for my blog." I stared, open-mouthed, at Karl. He took a drink of his beer, and re-plonked it on the bar, daring me to make fun of him.

Your blog?

"Yes, my blog. You're not the only one who can have his own blog around here."

I realize that.

"So why are you staring at me with your yapper dragging the bar?"

Because six months ago, you thought a blog was something a blumberjack cut down in the forest.

Karl was silent for a minute, as he took a long pull on his beer. I could tell his feelings were hurt, because he's never silent for this long unless he's thinking or pouting.

Oh jeez, Karl. I was just kidding. Don't be such a baby.

"Fine. So help me come up with a topic."

Service hamsters.

"What the hell is a service hamster?"

I don't know. My daughter came up with the idea last week. She said I should write about service hamsters. But I'm not going to do anything with it, so it's all yours.

"Is there even such a thing?"

No, but you asked for a topic.

"I meant a good topic."

You could write about your kids.

"My kids are all grown up and have families of their own."


"No, I get bored reading about other people's kids. I don't need to inflict my family on others."

I write about my kids all the time. Karl stared at me blankly. You could always write about this conversation, I said.

"That's stupid," Karl grumbled. "No one would read that."

I hope you're wrong, I said under my breath.

"What's that?"

Nothing, I said from behind my beer. So how do you usually find your topics to write about?

"I read the newspapers, listen to the radio, or just find stuff online that really grinds my gears. Then I rant on about that for several minutes, until I run out of steam."

Eww. Don't you ever get bored of that? I mean, you're just being reactionary, and not coming up with anything new. You're giving your opinion about something someone else has created, but not actually adding anything new to the idea. What separates you from someone on the radio who shouts into his microphone about the political soup of the day?

"Well, actually—"

I mean, if all you do is the automatic, knee-jerk, nay-saying about something another politician says, you're not actually contributing anything of value. If the government says up, you say down. If they say more, you say less. It's a pretty pathetic excuse for any kind of journalistic career.

"But I don't—"

How unimaginative and dull-witted do you have to be to base your entire career on 'I know you are, but what am I?' Honestly, where's the challenge in that? That's not journalism, that's childish retorts and playground taunting.

I paused for a breath, getting ready to shift into overdrive. Karl plonked his beer loudly, derailing my train of thought.

"Kid, do you even read my blog?"

(Uh oh.) Um, sure. . . all the time?

"Thought so. You have no idea what I write about at all, do you?"

I sipped thoughtfully at my beer for a moment. Well, no. What do you write about?

"Organic gardening."

I snorted a laugh into my beer. Yeah, right.

Karl looked a little hurt. "No, really."

I don't believe you. You're a man's man. You're probably writing about whiskey, or cigars, or killing grizzlies with your bare hands.

"Seriously, I blog about organic gardening."

I stared, open-mouthed, at him again. You realize they'll take away your man card for this.

"Oh yeah? My blog actually helps feed people healthy foods. You, on the other hand, write about service hamsters and stupid conversations you have with your friends about inane topics that make you look oh-so smart."

Ooh, thanks Karl. I was stuck for a topic idea.

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