Barrett Manor

Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Dredging Up an Old Column

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

One of the joys of cleaning is the odd things I turned up. Today's treasure trove was a stack of columns I'd written back in 1988. This means that my old columns are old enough to drink, which may explain a few things.

This particular piece was on top, and aside from a reference to the president at the time there's little to date it. I've cleaned up the formatting a bit, but the writing is intact, for what it's worth:
How does she do it? Read on
By Julie Barrett

People often ask me how I manage to write an entire newspaper column each and every week, yet still have time for outside activities, such as checking the mailbox and taking out the garbage. "Julie," they ask, "how DO you manage to write an entire newspaper column each and every week, yet still have time for outside activities, such as checking the mailbox and taking out the garbage?"

Juggling a career and a household isn't very easy for anyone, especially when the commute to work is say, any distance beyond the foot of the bed. Since my commute is about ten times that distance, there are days when I find it rather difficult to face the prospect of having to go to work. This morning I had to make my way around a two-cat pile up in the hallway.

Still, writing is not easy, especially because we writers are often prone to distractions, such as wondering why a jar of Vegemite is sitting on the shelf above the word processor and why is it made in Australia by the same folks who make processed cheese food in America, and why in the world would anyone want
to eat concentrated yeast extract anyway, let alone sing songs about the stuff, and why is it called Vegemite when there are no vegetables in the ingredient list?

Imagine what would have happened if Margaret Mitchell were to have had to put up with such a distraction while writing "Gone With the Wind?" The first draft would have had Scarlett among the ruins of Tara defiantly shouting, "as God is my witness, I shall never eat Vegemite again!" See what we're up against?

A typical column usually takes about a week to write, and the finished product is cleaned up and sent in on a Monday morning. Like many writers, I keep a journal of my activities. Here is a typical week of work:

TUESDAY: Time to start a column again. Turn on the computer and stare at the screen for about an hour, after which I realize that Tuesday is trash pickup day, and I had better get the garbage out. After hauling the weekend's garbage to the alley, I realize the city has changed the dates. Garbage pickup was yesterday. I go back inside and write what we in the journalistic profession call a lead: "Boy, that Ronald Reagan sure is a funny man. In fact, I can fill up a whole column talking about Ronald Reagan."

WEDNESDAY: I start the day with a pot of tea and an English muffin. Because I still have my glasses on, I'm not focusing very well and end up with a pile of Szechuan sauce on the bread instead of jam. This act causes me to go back and rewrite the lead, after which I stare at the screen for an hour, check the mailbox, and stare at the screen for a few more minutes. Then I check the mailbox. This exciting ritual continues until 5:00 or so, when I realize it is one of the many legal holidays which makes this nation great and there will be no mail delivery.

THURSDAY: I erase the entire lead and get an even funnier idea. Before I can get it into the word processor, the phone rings and I have to talk someone out of selling me some prime vacation land in East Texas. My day is spent cleaning house because I have forgotten my wonderful idea.

FRIDAY: One of the cats jumps on the keyboard and writes the funniest line I have ever witnessed. Before I can hit the "save" key, the cat hits the "delete" key. I spend the next hour coaxing the cat into writing again. All I get is "wfghjnmjkp=."

SATURDAY: My day off.

SUNDAY: This is supposed to be my day off, too, but by 11 p.m., I am working busily at my word processor. By 2 a.m., I have something written: "Boy, that Ronald Reagan sure is a funny man."

MONDAY: I drag myself out of bed and polish of the column by killing the lead and adding about 700 extra words. All I have left is to add a headline. Something simple, yet catchy which captures the flavor of the work. And it has to be in terse newspaper format: AS GOD IS WITNESS NEVER EAT VEGEMITE.

Now I have to worry about next week's column. After I go check the mailbox. I've already missed the garbage truck.
Thanks for reading.

Tags: Writing

Filed under: Writing            
2/22/2010 3:32:59 PM
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