How do you write your columns? Is that what you call them? I want to do it too. My mom was a writer before she died, and I think I want to be a columnist like you someday.
I don’t know if this is called a “column” or what. What I can tell you is that after being rejected by a handful of newspaper editors there wasn’t really any option for me but to publish stuff online. So call it whatever you want.
Some people call them blogs. But blogs weren’t around when I was young. Besides, I always had a thing for ink columns printed on gray newsprint.
I love the feel of a newspaper in my hands. And the way everyone gives the paper one hard shake to get it into position before they read it.
I used to deliver newspapers when I was younger. My mother and I would toss several million papers each morning before the sun came up. The greatest part came after we finished. I would read my favorite columnists.
What I love about columnists is that they are, by in large, pretty crummy writers. Seriously. Most columnists wouldn’t hold a candle to a Great American Author, English-wise. This is why I love them so much.
Because a Great American Author writes so beautifully that he makes the rest of us petty writers seem like Labradoodles.
It’s sort of like dating a girl who is better looking than you. She knows that she ranks WAY above you, so she sits in your passenger seat giving you the stink eye, saying, “You brought me to Waffle House for a date?”
And even though you remind her that Waffle House has award winning chili, she is disgusted.
So now you know why I call them columns, and you also know why Vanessa Spurton never returned my calls. But anyway, I’ll tell you how I approach writing. It’s pretty straightforward.
First I wake up. Then I make coffee and let my dogs outside to pee. But they never pee when I let them out, they just beg to come back inside. So I let them inside. Then outside again. Then in. Then out. We do this for hours.
After that, I tap a few thoughts onto a keyboard. Once I get about five hundred words, I reread it, then I use my index finger to firmly press the “delete” button because what I’ve just written sucks major toilet water.
Then I let my dogs outside again.
I pour coffee Number Two. I tap out more words. I’m keeping it loose. I’m trying to be conversational, no usage of big words like “loquaciousness” or “feckless.” I’m just letting it happen.
I take a short pause, reread my work, then announce with a big smile, “This is the worst feckless, loquacious piece of horse hockey I have ever read in my entire life.” I delete it.
Then I let the dogs outside.
Coffee Number Three. I have given up writing forever. I’ve decided to move to a South American island and take up interpretive dance as a creative outlet. Also, I watch daytime soap operas, which have all been using the same basic plots since 1958.
That’s when it hits me. I realize that I am not a true columnist, I never WAS a columnist, and I will NEVER BE one.
Next comes the salt in the wound. I get an email from a man who is irate because of something I wrote, a joke I made about Baptists.
These kinds of emails always come from Baptists. Just once, I wish I could get an irate email from an Episcopalian.
The angry message hurts my pride, but I suck it up, I stride manfully to my laptop keyboard, I take a deep breath, and…
I think I’ll go to Waffle House.
There, I order a chili. I read a newspaper to get my juices flowing. But newspapers have really gone downhill. There aren’t many columnists anymore who don’t harp about politics. The whole world has gone crazy for politics. If political headlines were made of candy, all the dentists could retire early.
After lunch, I have a lot of writing to do. So I make a firm decision to go home, sit at my keyboard, grab the literary bull by the horns, and take a four-hour nap.
When I awake, I am groggy. I have wasted the day and realize I have nothing to write about. I am dry. Empty.
Furthermore, who the hell cares what I have to say about the vast experience of life? For crying out loud, I DON’T EVEN CARE WHAT I HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE VAST EXPERIENCE OF LIFE. So why should anyone else? I’m not a real columnist. I’m not a real anything. I’m godawful. Bury me.
Then I open my mailbox. I’ve received a letter from a kid in Albuquerque, whose late mother was a writer. This kid is kind enough to refer to me as a columnist. Me. Of all people.
I dab my eyes and think to myself, “If only that kid knew how much his letter meant to an ordinary fool like me.”
In other words: I sincerely hope you have Waffle Houses in Albuquerque. If you do, try the chili.
And the rest will take care of itself.
Carol - January 6, 2020 9:08 am
Love your writings Sean!
Lita - January 6, 2020 9:25 am
Just about to start writing, then I read this. Sending a vast column of chilli-flavoured hearts and flowers. 🙂
sparkerlpc - January 6, 2020 10:07 am
I love to read your blog every single day. I then share it on Facebook. You are a writer. And a blogger. And this is a great blog!
I’d better stop, before I become loquacious!
AL SMOLKO - January 6, 2020 11:21 am
I read your “column” every day about the time you finish your third cup of coffee. I don’t care if it is good, bad or indifferent, it always inspires me to get up, get out and get it going on. Everyone needs a friendly dose of reality to start their day. I have to let my dog out now…wait a minute. I don’t have a dog.
Anne Arthur - January 6, 2020 11:37 am
This made my morning!
Elizabeth - January 6, 2020 12:01 pm
In, out, in, out, coffee, in, out, coffee, in out, nap, more coffee, in, out….
Donna W - January 6, 2020 12:14 pm
I have the same problems as you when I try to come up with a new entry for my blog. My husband and I are in our 70’s and don’t do much to be of interest to anybody, but I forge on. I have a dog to let out, and plenty of coffee, but it’s a struggle. Maybe I need to get another dog. But if I could afford to have 2 dogs, I would probably have enough money to travel, in which case I’d have new material to blog about. For some reason I’m now thinking about the John Prine song, “Hello in There” and I feel depression creeping up on me.
Denise DeVries - January 6, 2020 12:17 pm
Some days you hit the nail on the head. You fit better with a historian of Americana title. TY for the humor you handle it with.
Lydia - January 6, 2020 1:03 pm
Crying real tears
Phil S. - January 6, 2020 1:41 pm
Hey, Sean, good message to the aspiring kid in Albuquerque; but methinks thou doth too heavily denigrate thyself. You need to lighten up. You should reward yourself for this good “column” with a trip to (drum roll – you guessed it) Waffle House. I like Waffle House, too. Got to confess, however, that I have never tried the chili, but now you have inspired me. BTW, on my last trip there, Vanessa Spurton was my waitress.
Nita Risher McGlawn - January 6, 2020 1:47 pm
This Baptist loves all of your jokes. They make me LOL.
Jess - January 6, 2020 3:36 pm
Sean, I’m right there with you on the “letting the dogs out. letting the dogs in” routine. I’ve got three dogs, one adult dog and two puppies. The puppies are a handful, but I just had a person-to-dog discussion with the older dog about her wanting outside and then two minutes later wanting back inside. I told her enough is enough…keep this up and I’m shipping you to Sean Dietrich’s house and he can deal with you. I’m anxious to see if she straightens up now!
Shelton A. - January 6, 2020 3:53 pm
Nice story. I am Episcopalian and irate (but at HP, not you). Thought you should know we also get irate, too.
turtlekid - January 6, 2020 3:54 pm
It sounds so ordinary, but you do entertain with mundane trivialities! Thank you. You are loved!
aleathia nicholson - January 6, 2020 4:21 pm
I swear…..that’s it……..at least the dogs didn’t pee in the house…..dd they and I missed it???????/
Claudia Kennedy - January 6, 2020 4:27 pm
Consider this a fan letter from an Episcopalian. As a matter if fact, a few nights ago a fellow Episcopalian told me she reads your column to her husband every morning. (I share your link on my facebook after reading it as I will in a minute) so, Carol Bacus and I, Claudia Kennedy, along with husbands are your fans.
As for credentials, I am a bonafide English teacher and published author. So there! Oh, and another addendum (you can look that up and use the heck out of it to impress folks like I just did.) I read one or two chapter of you novel Stars over Alabama to my husband every night after we are under the covers. So the last thing he hears is my voice reading your words. Last night we closed with Vern and Paul arguing over who gets to hold that little red-headed baby. I know the ending since I read the book already. It was a gift from the aforementioned hubby for Christmas. (Another big word give to all English majors) . So buy yourself a cup of coffee at Waffle House. And tell that waitress she screwed up when she refused that second date.
Your devoted fans, Claudia and Ben Kennedy
Carlene Walker - January 6, 2020 4:27 pm
I am an artist and was an art teacher, high school. I feel your pain. I question myself constantly. I am going to try the chili.
I have said all of that to tell you that I had a wonderfully cleansing belly laugh this morning because of your talent. I am a Baptist too.
Linda Moon - January 6, 2020 4:57 pm
Someone I know and love “threw” papers back in the day while Mama drove the car. “Feckless” is one of my favorite words, as in a “feckless Mama’s boy”. I CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY, Columnist. This former Baptist will never send you an irate email. Why, I even traveled to a Baptist church to listen to your music and tales and to visit with former friends who are still Baptists….the kind who didn’t seem to be irate with you! I’m not ready to add your burial site to my list of cemeteries or mountain peaks yet, so keep writing!!
Linda Moon - January 6, 2020 5:02 pm
to Donna W: I was just thinking about a John Prine song this morning: “Taking A Walk”!
David P B Feder - January 6, 2020 5:09 pm
I am irate. You claim to always receive irate mail from Baptists then you go on to ask why you never receive irate emails from Episcopalians. I happen to be Jewish and am now irate that you chose Episcopalians instead of Jews. “Chosen People” my eye! Obviously not chosen by you!
So sign me “Irate!”
PS: Did that help?
PPS: You are, hands down, one of the best columnists to ever ink the Internet.
Palmer Albertine - January 6, 2020 5:42 pm
From a 58 year old father of four and grandfather of two who is still grinding through life as a small business operator, I needed to stop and say thank you. You have become one of the few in my life I classify as “ best friends I’ll probably never meet”. I’ve been following you for just over a year based on the recommendation of my eighty one year old mother in law and I had no intention of giving you more than one shot at impressing my cynical self, butwaddya know, I’m still hangin around.. Sean, if you could crawl inside my head, you would see a guy on his mental unicycle weaving between the two ditches of anxiety ( fear of the future) and depression ( regret for my past) wondering if today is the day I veer off the pavement. Your writing uniquely is that perfect balance between softening my heart and tickling my funny bone – just what the doctor ordered.
So, during those dry days you you may come across along the way, remember there are guys like me that consider you a gift from God, a reason to keep grinding, and the best friend I want to hear from every morning..
throughmyeyesusa - January 6, 2020 6:01 pm
I’m assuming, from your letter, that you’re an everyday, normal guy (and not an axe murderer) and so have no more to regret or dread, than anyone else.
Today is the “tomorrow” you were anxious about yesterday. It’s also the yesterday you were potentially regretting. Not so bad, is it?
Please try to enjoy, no, treasure, these days with your family and grand-family. Time’s a-wasting!
Belinda Crowell - January 6, 2020 6:43 pm
Loved this one, Sean! And, because of all these comments above, I hope you’re getting the idea: we just love you to pieces, Sean❣️ Read your writings every day and hope you never stop. Be right back. Gotta go let my dog out for the millionth time.
Beth Ann Chiles - January 6, 2020 9:54 pm
From a fellow blogger I get it. Some days the ideas and thoughts flow and the posts I write that I think stink are the exact ones that get the most attention and comments. You are a breath of fresh air in the sometimes polluted environment and I am your biggest fan. Come to North Carolina, will you?
Palmer Albertine - January 6, 2020 10:44 pm
You are correct on all fronts. Great quote – I’m gonna write that one down. BTW, I have never sent a comment to a site like this before and realized too late that it went to the world instead of just Sean . I definitely would have kept it lighter. The goal was to let him know his impact. Lesson learned. Thank you
Harriet - January 7, 2020 3:28 am
I loved your column Sean. I also love reading the comments!! You people are great writers too!
Allison - January 7, 2020 3:54 am
Dog doors are great! Now I’m in the mood for chili! Thanks, Ali
wgarysmith999 - January 7, 2020 7:55 pm
A really good column Sean. I believe you are a really good writer, columnist, novelist, or what ever you want to be called. I also believe that you are a realist “word slinger” that also happens to be a really good guy!
Carol - January 11, 2020 7:28 pm
🤗🤦♀️😁🙃😃your a hoot!!
Did I ever tell you that!!
Well I’m telling you again!! Sorry I’m late getting back to you , but gosh so much happens in the two weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas!
That I haven’t had time to catch up with you!!
So carry on. Happy New Year 🎈🎆🎊
I think that’s the day after Christmas and the first of Jan is the start of Valentines!
Gosh we’ll soon be able to kiss our own 🙃, oops got to run!
Gwen M Lancaster - February 28, 2021 10:07 pm
Sean, I am most grateful for your blogs, your collections of essays, and your book (s). As an English teacher for 30 years, I am not bothered by the use and creative sprinkling of colloquialisms that you employ. If you have word critics, I suggest a word for you to use to flummox them, and that is the word, “Selah” which appears in the Bible 74 times (that should satisfy the Baptists, Episcopalians, and the Hebrew folks!). Careful research into “selah” reveals that no one knows what it means. There are word smiths who have opinions, but no one has given us the nailed down, definitive, final definition. It may be a pause or a final marker like “amen,” but they are not sure. Just for fun, see if you can get any readers irate about it!! Keep up the excellent writing. As a scribe, you get an A+ from me. (Book for you to read, recommendation, if you have not done so, ” The Book of Longings” by Sue Monk Kidd. It is about scribes, too.)
Jim & Kay Simms - March 1, 2021 11:10 pm
Very uplifting essay, encouraging for wanta be writers.