Art of Column Writing
By Suzette Martinez Standring
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
I come late to the blogging party. This has been my reluctance: What, another deadline? I can’t compete with established, tech-savvy bloggers. Do I really need more emails to suck up all my writing time? Now I blog. What changed?
GateHouse News Service invited me to post at least three times weekly. I’m a religion columnist, and to couch it in more spiritual terms, I’ll say, “When God gives you a gift you don’t say, ‘no thanks.’” My blog, Suzette’s Spiritual Cafe, launched in late March 2012, and my cafe theme gave me room to put lots of different things “on the menu” – meaty entrees, comical sides, a fillip of dessert.
The invitation came because my syndicated, twice monthly, spirituality column that I’ve written for GateHouse since late 2007 is popular. Yet I balked at blogging. “Will it pay?” (Assuming the answer would be no, I’d have my out.)
Money was on the table. So I suited up. My new password took me to a GateHouse “dashboard” where I learned how to pilot the blogging plane in mid-flight. I’d been flying solo for about three months, fully expecting to crash when I queried my national editor, “Is anyone reading my blog?” I held my breath.
“Your blog is the eighth-most-read in GateHouse! Excellent numbers for such a new blog,” the editor wrote back.
Not bad for not having any formula or strategy. (Doesn’t that just chap you?) However, if I retrace my steps, there are certain tenets I wrote by.
Vulnerability: I vowed to be myself. As a religion columnist, I face labels, assumptions and negative stereotypes, but I can’t worry about how I am perceived. Yet it’s a weekly exercise to summon up the guts to be self-revealing. Lord, help me.
Relatable: My posts are like conversations with friends and neighbors about God the father, not the foe. At first I worried that I was a sissy because I didn’t tackle things like evolution v. creationism, or other inflammatory sound-bite stories. The truth is, such things don’t interest me, but I did fret. Didn’t “they” expect to hear from me on such matters? Really, who are the invisible “they” who insist that I am doing it all wrong? My mantra is, “Get your own damned blog and write about it.”
Column crafting: I don’t assume anyone follows my blog. I approach each post as the only chance I have with a reader. Connie Schultz once said, “Your writing needs to rise to the top.” I put a lot of spit and polish into it, and I work to answer the reader’s question, “Why are you telling me this?” I strive to share a novel insight, a good lesson, or a new angle on spirituality.
I don’t write to be a top-read blog as my goal (although it sure felt nice!). I write to please myself. Does this posting engage me? If so, then others might feel the same way. Often, I feel like I’m wandering the desert, but then, aren’t we all looking for publication’s Promised Land?
See you at the next watering hole.
Suzette Standring wrote the award winning book, The Art of Column Writing. Visit her new national spirituality blog, Suzette’s Spiritual Cafe. Sample posts: “The Transparent Life?” and “To The Fathers Who Stayed.”