Some readers know that I write an eponymous column for the American Lawyer Media print publication, Law Technology News. I use this blog to test ideas for the column, and now-and-then the column affords fodder for the blog. The key difference between the two is that writing for print entails meeting deadlines and working within the confines of a strict word count. You write because it’s due. You write 1,200 words because the art and the layout allow for no more or less.
With a blog, you write when the spirit moves you and you can spare the time. You spit out as many or as few words as you wish. A blog is instant gratification and a splendid outlet; but, nothing forces you to write for real quite like the imperative of print.
I’ve written BIYC the column for over eight years. That’s a long tenure for a columnist, and I want to share the secret of my longevity to aid those who aspire to pen a column of their own. Actually, I offer three secrets:
One, come up with the right number of words before they go to press. If you do it the other way around, you don’t make it into the magazine.
Seriously, if you want to write, the thing you’ve got to do is write. Long ago, when I was young and single, I dated two lovely women, both college seniors. One told everyone who would listen that she was going to be a writer; yet, I never saw her write more than a grocery list and I never read her work in print. She was a writer in her own mind. The other lovely lady didn’t call herself a writer; but, she wrote for the student newspaper, slaved summers as a book editor in New York and paid her tuition putting words on paper about any subject for anyone that would publish her work.
Have you guessed that the second young lady was J.K. Rowling, billionaire author of the Harry Potter books?
Okay, I totally made up the Rowling part, but the rest is true. If you want to be a writer you’ve got to write. A lot. All the time. Even when you don’t feel particularly inspired. Then, you’ve got to get your stuff published and read, critiqued, torn apart and (hopefully, occasionally) praised. You’ve got to live for the off chance that on a good day, you might just say something reasonably well.
Two, have a great editor. Better yet, have two. My wife, Diana, is an amazing editor. For the print stuff, she catches my mistakes in punctuation, grammar, tense and number, She won’t let me fall for for my own purple prose and awkward alliteration. Diana tolerates only so much rant and blather before Tracked Changes is silent witness to her carnage. Oh, the humanity! Whatever mistakes survive Diana’s merciless blue pencil are caught by LTN Editor-in-Chief, Monica Bay, who singlehandedly transformed LTN from a motley regurgitation of press releases to an award-winning, honest-to-goodness magazine.
Oh, and the third secret: give it away for free. If you wonder what this LTN columnist gets paid for his toil, know that it’s exactly the same sum you are paying to read this post, dear reader. Worth every penny, eh?
Bonus secret: Keep your day job.