Art of Column Writing
By Suzette Martinez Standring
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
Dinner with forensic scientist Dr. Henry C. Lee, blogging and “what’s-it all-about-Alfie” all came together for me one night. You see, a question gnaws at the edges of my gray matter. Can one have writing success without a vibrant blog? I wonder because my blog, Spiritual Café, was in hospice and I pulled the plug last year. Can I be a credible writer without a blog?
First, this is what led to its demise.
GateHouse changed to a new national online system. All my past columns going back to 2008 were kaput. All my blogging links from 2012 were erased. I walked around with PTSD, vacant-eyed, at my loss of identity. I felt annihilated.
Overcoming constant deadlines and indentured servitude was one thing. Erasure of my writing past was another. I still write my syndicated spirituality column but despite my editor’s protests, I gave up blogging.
After that time opened up. Life was way better lived in the moment compared to blogging about it on deadline. There was more time to craft my twice-monthly columns and to concentrate on teaching writing workshops. Yet many would say a no-blog-writer is a big career mistake.
Then guess who came for dinner? Dr. Henry C. Lee, the famous forensic scientist, who came to speak at the Milton (Massachusetts) Public Library at my invitation. (The least I could do was whip up a beef stew beforehand). Somehow I expected him to be distant and academic. His cheer and wicked sense of humor took me aback.
He’s been involved in over 8,000 criminal investigations, and was the go-to expert in the biggest cases in modern history. I asked him how he stayed so positive about life when all he saw was evidence of hatred and violence?
At age 77, he is motivated to help victim’s families. To bring peace and closure to those tortured by uncertainty. To free innocent people and to quell community rage and distrust with clear answers through forensic science. This is his life’s purpose.
Dr. Lee said, “Everyone comes to earth one time. It’s one short trip. Even if you live to be 80, that’s about 30,000 days. I feel I should do something. Everything counts. We have to ask, what did we do to help the world, to leave a mark? There is so much to do, so much to finish.”
An insight into my own career! I realized I had the wrong focus: how to fit my square peg into the round (bottomless to me) hole of blogging and feeling like I wasn’t measuring up.
It all cycles back to making someone better for having known you, whether they are few or in the millions. I so admire my colleagues who effect change on a much grander scale, and use social media to that end. However, I may never be the writer with exponentially growing followers.
Still, I’m fortunate to have feedback from others who say my columns or books have given them encouragement, or taught them something, or helped them to get published. I treasure such thank you emails, which are very different from quick blog comments or “likes.”
I may return to blogging sometime, but Dr. Lee reminded me to focus on what inspired me to write in the first place, to do my bit in the world, and that “everything counts.”
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Email Suzette Standring at email@example.com or visit www.readsuzette.com. She is the author of The Art of Column Writing and The Art of Opinion Writing, which are used in university journalism courses nationally. Available online or through your local bookseller.