COLUMN: Digging for inspiration as the clock ticks

PAN columnist Nick Greenizan works against the clock to try to find a little column-writing inspiration.

If anybody ever wondered what life is like in the editorial department of a newspaper – and if you have, I feel sorry for you – they would’ve got a good glimpse into our glamourous world on a recent Wednesday afternoon.

As of this writing, most everyone is busy, tap-tapping away on their keyboards, finishing off some story or another.

And a deadline looms, less than two hours away.

There’s no visible panic yet – though, to be fair, I can’t see my editor from my desk – but it’s always there, in the background.

Tick tock, tick tock.

“Anybody got a column?” comes the call from said editor’s office.

“I’ll read a column, sure,” says one reporter who, with headphones on, has incorrectly heard the question.

“No… we need someone to write one.”

“Oh. Sorry, no. I’m out.”

And so comes the same answer as the same question is echoed down the line, cubicle to cubicle, desk to desk.

“Nope, sorry.”

“Nadda.”

Then, silence.

As for myself, well… though I do have the innate ability to write about nothing for 624 words – one of my few marketable skills, really – I, too, am tapped out. I’ve got no ideas worth writing about, and even if I did, no time to do it.

The column well runneth dry.

Tick tock, tick tock.

It’s a funny thing about columns. Nobody ever seems to want to write one. Sure, once they’re done, they’re sometimes great. If done well, they can be full of witty insights, deep thoughts or pointed opinions.

And done not-so-well? Well, you just hope nobody notices.

But in a newsroom full of talented people who get paid to write quickly, under pressure, the column is still, by far, the hardest thing to really nail.

A writer’s white whale, so to speak.

For once, the reporter isn’t reprinting other people’s quotes and ideas gleaned from interviews or news releases, but rather expected to string together his or her own thoughts, opinions, beliefs or hilarious anecdotes.

In other words, we have to think for ourselves. I know, I hate it, too.

But on the plus side, we get to write in the first-person, which can sometimes be fun.

And if you really want to turn off your readers, you can even write the whole thing in the third-person, which I once did for my old college newspaper, just to see what would happen.

The response? Nick liked it. Others? Not so much.

But whatever you write, you have to open yourself up a little bit, and in a Facebook age where everybody’s personal privacy settings are usually set on “high,” well, that can be a frightening thing.

And sometimes you have to do it on a tight deadline.

Tick tock, tick tock.

It’s the reason I’ll start writing one slowly, in the hope that something different – written by someone else – will materialize in the meantime.

Often, that is exactly what happens, and I’m able to exhale, and safely hit “save and close” on my document, my few disjointed thoughts stored away for another day, only to be completed when there are no other options.

I have a folder on my computer called “columns in progress.” It may as well be subtitled, “In case of emergency, break glass,” because nothing inside gets finished unless all other options are exhausted.

That folder is the second parachute. An ejector seat. A way out of trouble.

It’s from where this column came from.

“So, did anybody come up with anything?” comes the hopeful call from the editor’s office.

“No,” everyone groans.

Tick tock, tick tock.

Deadlines are the best.

Nick Greenizan is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

Just Posted

South Surrey’s Meridian Golf Course – a 15-acre property that also includes a residence – has been sold. (Colliers Canada photo)
South Surrey’s Meridian Golf Course sold to new owners

Deal for popular par 3 course expected to close by end of the year

A cache of 89 crabs was discovered during a 2018 compliance inspection at South Surrey’s Elgin Park Marina. (Contributed photo)
$7,500 fine for illegal crab harvest discovered in South Surrey

Laird Goddyn found guilty in Surrey Provincial Court following 2018 investigation

City of Surrey photo
Surrey starts Slow Streets pilot project

Speed limits have been reduced in six Surrey neighbourhood zones for one year to monitor impact on residents

Gymnast Shallon Olsen. (Photo: olympic.ca)
Olympics-bound Surrey gymnast Shallon Olsen enters sports hall of fame – in Coquitlam

She was the youngest member of Team Canada when she made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks at a press conference in August 2019 about provincial government approval of the city’s change to a municipal force, joined by councillors (from left) Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Doug Elford. Members of the National Police Federation claim there is still no transition plan in place although Surrey RCMP’s contract with the city is due to end March 31.(File photo)
Elections BC approves petition application for referendum on Surrey policing transition

Application was filed under Recall and Initiative Act by the widow of a Surrey murder victim

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Attorney General David Eby attend opening of the first government-run B.C. Cannabis Store, Kamloops, Oct. 19, 2018. (B.C. government)
B.C. government to allow home cannabis delivery starting July 15

Added convenience expected to persuade buyers to ‘go legal’

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Homicide investigators say the disappearance of a 33-year-old Burnaby man is linked to ongoing gang warfare in the Lower Mainland. (IHIT)
Disappearance of Burnaby man no accident, foul play suspected: IHIT

Parminder Paul Rai, 33, is known to police for his connection to drug and gang activity, says Sgt. Frank Jang

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated for construction workers in Lower Mainland

Sites in Abbosford, Burnaby and Vancouver holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

Most Read