Art of Column Writing
By Suzette Martinez Standring
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
I am curious about anyone who would fly 10,000 miles from Australia to our conference in Hartford. Annie Barr is our Down Under gal from Barham, New South Wales, and wins for the longest distance traveled. Let’s give her a warm American welcome in Hartford.
— Suzette Standring
Suzette Martinez Standring: So tell me about your column-writing life.
Annie Barr: I didn’t know anything about column writing and literally fell into it by accident in 2011. I wrote one too many letters to the editor of our local paper (The Bridge) and he said, “Annie, we can’t publish a letter from you every week, how about you just have your own column and write about whatever you want.” (My second Behind the Barr column explains it.)
Like most people, I want to make a difference in this world and I find column writing an excellent way of getting a message across with a bit of humor and hopefully helping people at the same time.
I took a break from writing for The Bridge newspaper after 86 columns and now just write on my blog. [The editor and owner refused to pay for her work – SMS]
I was a bit miffed, cried and had a little “pity party” by myself. Then I got over it and booked a flight to New York and registered for the NSNC conference!! Really, the editor did me a favor. It was more a lesson for me about valuing myself and making myself set bigger goals.
It was all thanks to your book, Suzette, The Art of Column Writing. You were a past president and I have endless curiosity and being a veritable “Google Queen” I googled and learnt all about it. I want to learn from other writers and there doesn’t seem to be any columnist association in Australia, at least none that I’ve discovered.
I believe, if you want to live an extraordinary life, you have to be prepared to take big leaps of faith and this is what this trip is about for me. (I hope I’m setting a good example for my boys) It’s waaaayyyyy out of my comfort zone.
We live in a world of instant gratification, and we want it all – NOW! In reality “overnight success” is usually years in the making. Thomas A. Edison’s quote should be on posters in schools, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that do not work.”
SMS: Tell me about your personal life.
AB: I’m 42 years old. I have three sons, Max, 15; Sam, 13; and Henry, 10. I’m divorced. I’ve been a single parent for over ten years now. My husband, Duncan, walked out on us — very unexpectedly — in May 2003. Suddenly I was a deserted wife, single mother, and our rural contracting business collapsed overnight. We’d been together for eleven years, and I was still going through the “honeymoon” phase, so to say it was a shock is an understatement. I found it very tough; a character building experience you might say.
In January 2008, the boys and I left Hay and moved 200 km south to Echuca so I could go back to college and retrain as a remedial massage therapist. Human touch is such a powerful healing tool. After I graduated good friends suggested we move to Barham. On a whim, I did. Within six months all three boys and I had fallen in love with Barham. It’s a lot less isolated than Hay. There are more opportunities for the boys, and my massage therapy business keeps me employed full-time.
I’ve been lucky inasmuch as the boys have had a lot of good men in their lives as role models: my dad, my brother, blokes I grew up with at Hay and great friends here in Barham. Happily for the boys, Duncan reappeared in their lives two years ago, and they now get to spend time with him during some school holidays, and he phones them most weeks and comes up every so often to watch them play footy on the weekends.
SMS: What’s it like being a columnist in rural Australia?
AB: Barham is a little river town (pop. 1500) on the New South Wales side of the Murray River, three and a bit hours north of Melbourne (capital of Victoria) but a good nine or ten hours drive from Sydney (capital of New South Wales). I don’t know what it’s like being a columnist anywhere else, but here it’s fun; people stop you in the street and talk about what you’ve written.
Rural Australia is a very different world from the big cities and I think we often feel “city people” and politicians have no idea how we live out here and what we all do. It’s good to be able to provide a “voice” from the bush. [Read Annie’s blog post about this trip.]
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Suzette Martinez Standring, is a syndicated columnist and blogger (Gatehouse News Service), TV show host and writing teacher. She wrote the award-winning The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists and is the author of the forthcoming book, The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets from Ellen Goodman, Cal Thomas, Clarence Page and Gther Great Op-ed Columnists.