Art of Column Writing
By Suzette Martinez Standring
NSNC 2004-06 President
Writing brings satisfaction, but are enough people reading our columns?
A negative twist to Saturday Night Live’s Stuart Smalley plays in my head, “My ‘likes’ aren’t good enough. My blog posts aren’t smart enough and, doggone it, my Twitter feed is too low.”
Recently, I read The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly by Seth Godin, who wrote:
Welcome to the connection economy. The value we create is directly related to how much valuable information we can produce, how much trust we can earn, and how often we innovate.
Hey, that’s what columnists do.
According to Godin, in this age of instant connection, more than ever, relationship feels rare and, therefore, is more highly valued. We columnists have an advantage since our art is to get people to care. We ease loneliness, guide decision-making, interpret confusing events, make the unfamiliar safe, make readers laugh, or give them pause.
Pete Hamill (NSNC’s 2005 lifetime achievement recipient) once said, “If readers come away saying, ‘I never thought of it that way’ or ‘I never knew that’ then I will have done my job.”
On schedule, we say, “Check this out with me” and readers feel they know us.
We care about being read, and how to be read by more. When we see cheap nonsense go global, it’s tempting to water down substance in favor of flash. Originality, both in viewpoint and voice, is a standout asset, yet everywhere homogeneous writing is like urban sprawl, unwanted but accepted.
The artifice required to hook passing eyeballs — sensationalism and mean-spiritedness — cheapens one’s column writing purpose. (But look how they went viral!) It’s tempting to play to the stats, to see validation (or rejection) in Facebook likes and Twitter tweets.
What is your mission as a columnist? Staying true to it preserves your originality.
Often work shared on Facebook’s Columnists’ Clubhouse is a reinforcement of refreshing and insightful takes on news and life. Daily I learn what authenticity, or hilarity, and most certainly, what bravery looks like on a page from you, my friends and colleagues.
I found it reassuring when Seth Godin wrote:
Part of your hard work is to shun the nonbelievers and to focus on the audience of your choice. The mass marketers and the industrialists need everyone. You don’t. You merely need to matter to a few. The dangerous addiction is to keep expanding the audience until we find people who hate our work. And then our reflex is to listen to those people, to the haters, to the exclusion of those we sought to serve in the first place.
You know your readers, and your column makes a difference to them. “Likes” and social media stats have their place, but the goal was never to snag eyeballs, but to reach readers’ hearts.
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