By Trisha Blanchet
The Sun, Lowell, Mass.
Writing a column is a lot like slapping a bumper sticker onto your car. You feel strongly about something, stick it up there for the world to see, and then forget about it. But you never know what that guy behind you is thinking as he drives along. Maybe he’s saying, “You go, girl! I agree completely!” Or maybe he’s trying to figure out a way to smash your minivan into a tree and make it look like an accident.
And here’s the other tricky thing about column-writing: There’s a word count. In my case, the magic number falls between 500 and 550 words. Some weeks, that doesn’t seem like nearly enough, and you have to cut out half of the original rant—er, column, just to make it fit.
Other weeks, you might have trouble coming up with enough words to fill the space. When this happens, it can be tempting to repeat the same thoughts over and over, and over and over and over, just to meet your word count. This can get very repetitive, of course, so it’s important to resist this temptation. If you keep saying the same thing again and again and again, this may become, as I said, very repetitive. Very, very repetitive. (Word count so far: 213).
Topic selection is another challenge. Sometimes your judgment in this area can become impaired. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and think: “Why do all my socks get holes in the toes? Is that funny ‘ha ha,’ or funny ‘strange?’ I think I’d like to explore this topic further.” In hindsight, you realize that’s one bumper sticker you should have kept off the car. But you know what they say about hindsight: It’s smarter than you.
If you choose a great topic, make your point thoroughly, but still don’t have enough words on the page, you do have a few more options. You can throw in a quote by a famous person, for example. That can be helpful. Or, you can explore one of the most important aspects of column-writing: the ending. As the famous columnist Erma Bombeck once said, “Leave ’em with a quip they won’t forget.” I did have a great quip for this column, but I’ve already forgotten it. So I guess, by Erma’s standards, it wasn’t very good to begin with. (Word count: 395)
Instead, I’ll leave you with this thought: Writing a column is actually much better than slapping a bumper sticker on your car. Because even if your last bumper sticker was really lousy (“Kiss a vegetarian: They don’t have meat-breath!”), you get to peel it off every week and replace it with a new one.
Best of all, you also get to read all the wonderful letters from people who took the time to tell you that they enjoyed this or that, or perhaps to offer you some constructive criticism: a.k.a., “Maybe you should stop writing about sock holes.” Of course, you also have to read the weird, angry messages from (usually anonymous) people who typically suggest that you look for a clue inside various parts of your anatomy. To these people, I would like to say—Word count: 543. Guess I’ll hold that thought until next week.
Trisha Blanchet just marked her 2-year anniversary of writing the “Mommy Confidential” column for The Sun in Lowell, Massachusetts. To celebrate the occasion, she decided to write a column about… writing columns. Who better to appreciate it, she asks, than her fellow NSNC-ers? “We feel each other’s pain.” You can visit Trisha at “Mommy Confidential” on Facebook.