Once again the deadline for my column snuck up on me. I only had a couple of half-formed ideas about what I might write about. I got lucky again and I think this one turned out all right.
(I am putting this up the way I wrote it. Some changes were made by the editor before it ran, changes that I think weakened the piece.)
Do It Yourself
I’m not going to write a column this month. Instead, at the risk of running myself out of a job, I’m going to teach you the secret of how to write a column – or an essay or an article or a book even. The secret is that powerful.
And I know you don’t already know the secret. Know how I know? Because you have at some point asked a writer: “Where do you get your ideas?” You wouldn’t ask that if you knew the secret because that’s not the way it works at all.
Here’s the secret: Writers don’t write because they know all about a particular topic, they write because they want to know more about that topic.
In other words, writers don’t get ideas, they get questions.
Let me show you how it works. If I had written a column this month I might have written about why the Dixie Chicks were reviled for expressing their political opinions while Tim McGraw gets a pass for expressing remarkably similar sentiments. I wanted to write about this because I’m curious. Is it because the Chicks said what they said on foreign soil? Or is there some misogyny involved?
I don’t know, but I want to know. And somewhere during the writing, researching and ruminating I would have arrived at an answer that satisfied me and hopefully my readers.
I also considered – because I don’t want to give Jeff Remz another heart attack by writing about politics – a column about the song “Feed Jake” by the Pirates of the Mississippi. This is probably my second favorite country song of the 1990’s, despite the fact that it clearly makes no sense. Why am I so hard on some songs for exhibiting lyrical inconsistency and so enraptured by others? Bob Dylan probably would have come up in this one because he’s the king of dodgy lyrics. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Why is that?
(Say it with me.)
I don’t know, but I want to know.
There you have it. Curiosity and a spell checker. You now have all the tools you need to become a first class wordsmith.
All you have to do now is practice looking wise and inscrutable when people ask you where you get your ideas.