Writing Is Easy — Until It's Your Turn

As I walked through Avo's with my cup of coffee, I spotted Seymour Sharpe sitting at a table writing. "Whatcha doing?" I asked as I sat down.

"Writing one of my three sample columns," he said. "I saw that the Coloradoan is advertising for three more community columnists for a two-year hitch. I figure if you can do it, any yahoo can."

"You mean a yahoo like you?" I asked.

"That's not quite what I meant," he replied.

"Too bad," I said. "When you write, you must phrase opinions exactly how you intend. You can't respond to the body language of readers. And even when you're precise, people will still interpret what you write in light of their own knowledge and emotions. And with a column, you're talking to thousands of people at once, with thousands of possible interpretations."

"Well I'll think about it," he said, "but I'm not gonna be some namby-pamby sycophant trying to offend the least number of readers. I'm going to take a stand. Force people to acknowledge their idiotic misconceptions about politics and science and general life."

I raised my coffee cup to him. "More power to you, but there are several things you must consider. For one, most people are in the majority or close to it. The Bell Curve holds for all issues. Even on divisive ones such as abortion or war where the choice appears to be a binary For or Against, people's reasons, thoughts, and considerations are usually similar. That's why those point-counterpoint articles in the Sunday paper are not so far apart. Both the authors and the readers they are trying to reach are rational, thinking humans who realize most people have good reasons and intentions for their actions."

"Well I'll cogitate about it, but I'm planning on doing something more like Crossfire," he said. "Get in people's faces and get their attention."

"That works better on television than in print because you don't use your brain when watching TV," I said.

"You mean everyone who watches TV is a moron?" He wrote something down.

"Nope," I answered. "What I mean is the same human uses more brain power when reading. Think of when you're sick. You can watch TV for hours, but wouldn't even dream of picking up a book because that's too much effort. Reading requires comprehension. Television just requires eyeballs. So different techniques work. The most important is readability. You can't be too hard or too simple or boring."

"Well I'll ponder about some stylistic issues, but my style won't be pedantic or simple," he said. "I'll use the synergy between different concepts in the noosphere to show how an individual's thoughts are controlled subliminally."

"Sounds interesting," I said, "except you may turn off readers. When I was tutoring writers, I told students to write the way they talk. The best essays were always written after someone would tell me what they really meant and I'd suggest they simply transcribe their spoken tale. Of course, I wouldn't use the word 'pedantic' or 'noosphere,' but I know how you talk."

"People can look up the words," he said.

I nodded. "Some probably will, but others will just turn the page. For myself, I try to emulate the columns and essays I enjoy reading."

"I'll perpend on it," he said. "Writing a column seems like a lot of fun for not much work. I'm sure some weeks are difficult, but I don't really see a downside."

I took a sip of coffee before answering. "I don't want to quash any dreams of glory, but people will think you work for the Coloradoan. And even though it's only as a part-time 'stringer,' in the eyes of readers and in actual fact, you will be a bona fide member of the media."

He laid his pencil down. "I'll have to contemplate this changing of sides."