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.

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