Writing this column has been a humbling experience, showing me after a lifetime of writing just how much I have to learn.
So, lately I’ve been reading more of other people’s work. Good place to start: some of the outstanding reporters, editors, and especially other columnists in the Santa Monica Daily Press.
So it was that on a recent family excursion south, by automobile, as the designated rider/reader, I turned to the “Laughing Matters” column by Jack Neworth. Definitely a good bet for the family’s edification.
Jack’s been doing the column thing for many years, and seems to be pretty famous for it. Many times he writes about something Santa Monican but his interests are wide-ranging, well thought-out and researched, and always bring a smile or two. I especially love the headlines on his columns. I’d be surprised and very disappointed if I found out he didn’t come up with them himself. (“Heds” are the purview of editors, but if the writer is good at them, it saves them a little time thinking.)
Neworth’s column that day was about America’s own special brand of socio-political looneyness: “The Tea Party is Over.” Well-done, but as I read I couldn’t help thinking, this is too obvious, I know all this.
Perhaps it is a virus or genetic defect, but I am blessed with a wife and daughter who both are nearly as obsessed as I am with what goes on in the world, and are very well informed. We’re all news junkies, to a degree. Instead of polite eye-rolling or can’t-take-any-more aggravation, they seem to actually listen, most of the time, when I go on (and on) about the latest insult to humanity from some crazy right-winger (who’s also an elected member of Congress) or ominous city staffer.
So I was surprised to hear “wow” or “oh no” as I made my way through Neworth’s column listing some egregious Tea Party twaddle, indicating that, unlike the guy reading it to them who spends way too much time on MSNBC and political websites, these very aware and informed women hadn’t heard of all these goings on.
Which humbled me again, because it reminded me that all of us, even those I most admire and respect, are knowledgeable about stuff we decide to focus on, and we must be generous in our acceptance of where everyone else is, in every realm, be it the latest DC follies, career or relationship choices or a spiritual path.
I try to remind myself not to judge. Everyone (yeah, even Boehner, the Bieber and Rush Limbaugh) wants to be liked, not hated, and is trying to live the best life they can, the best they know how. You never know what path someone has taken, to where you meet them.
Writers always struggle with the eternal question, how much does my audience know? You don’t want to go over their heads, nor do you want to spend all your words telling them things they already know. Writing ain’t easy.
Oh, of course it’s not, you agree — out loud. And yet everyone thinks they can write. Really. Almost everyone. Think about it, what people say. You know I’m right.
More people will admit to not being a good driver (and that number is miniscule) than will confess that they cannot write. And half of those are fibbing, for modesty’s sake. Someone can be clueless about grammar and spelling, but that’s not a problem.
Anyone who ever sent an interoffice memo they were proud of, or was secretary of their Chess Club in college, or got an A on a high school English Lit composition, or doodled some poetry or steamy romance novel paragraphs (that they would never show to anyone — especially the poetry) believes, no, knows they can write.
Because of this huge pool of writers, no one wants to pay anything for writing. It’s writing — anyone can do it. You should be thrilled that we will be exposing your fine skills and ideas to our “Twitter and Facebook combined following of 25 million and counting,” or to generate your pay from the “three components of our cash flow: newsletter advertising, event sponsorships, and of course ticket sales.” How much “turn of a phrase” do you think is required for this one, listed under “writing/editing:” “basic understanding of SEO, HTML, and WordPress or similar CMS”?
Check Craig’s List. (If you do, and you see something good, please let me know. I stopped looking there a few years ago.) Of course there are the more professional sites, but then you take the leap from intern-land to only-apply-if-you’ve-been-doing-this-exact-thing-all-your-life-at-the-very-highest-level, and please send a two-pound life history resume and references from at least three studio heads or cabinet-level officers.
Besides “writing/editing,” Craig’s List also has a category for “writing gigs.” Taking a peek just now, here’s my fave, actually the first one that caught my eye, since I spent many years as a so-called music critic.
“Do you like music? Consider yourself a bit of a music critic? You could review music and earn some extra cash … and help control what gets played on the radio.” (They just eliminated anyone under 30 with that “radio” reference. Should have at least explained what radio is.)
“As a scout you must listen to a song for 90 seconds and write a review. You can earn up to 25¢ per review. The average earnings are between 5¢ to 20¢ per review.”
I take it back about everyone wanting you to write for free. But I’ll have to pass on this one. It’s tempting, but there have been a lot of songs I couldn’t endure to even the 20-second mark.
Don’t get me wrong! (Boss! Publisher! Fine new Editor-in-Chief!) Not going to jump ship! I love writing for the Daily Press, and would do it even if I did have a full time job, writing/editing, writing gigging or otherwise. But a man with a kid in college has got to consider taking on extra work. Let’s see, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. divided by 90 seconds times 25 cents.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.