I have been asked to write a column for my hometown newspaper. Nobody knows about the paper, but it’s big where I live. I’m scared. Scared I’m not good enough or that people won’t like what I write. Can you give me some advice?
Writing a column is a lot like passing a kidney stone. It’s uncomfortable, sure. But when you’re finished, you’ll have a neat souvenir to share with your family.
When I first started writing columns, I was on the wrong side of age 30. I had no training. No experience. No pedigree. All I had were buck teeth and a bad back.
I waltzed into a small-town newspaper office and brazenly asked if I could work there. The woman behind the editor’s desk looked at me like I was three peas short of a casserole.
She asked about my qualifications.
I told her I had no qualifications except that I was currently attending a community college. Also, for breakfast I’d had a V8.
To my surprise, she gave me a job. I was shocked. Shocked.
Then, the editor went on to say there was a $50 signing bonus for new employees. So I reached into my pocket, got out my checkbook and said, “Who do I make the check out to?”
“No, silly,” she said. “The $50 bonus is for you. It’s for expenses.”
Well, I took that money and applied it toward my celebration expenses. I celebrated by filling my truck with gas, and buying a gas-station eggroll that, to this day, remains obstructed in my gastrointestinal tract somewhere.
But my life was forever changed by this simple job of producing columns. I love what I do.
Since then, I’ve written columns for many newspapers, Rotary Club pamphlets, Girl Scout troop newsletters, church bulletins, nursing home mailouts, and Civic League email prayer lists. And in my brief career, do you know what I’ve learned?
Seriously, I haven’t learned jack. After all, I’ve never been the brightest bulb in life’s marquee.
There is one thing, however, I have noticed. I’ve discovered that we humans are all scared of the same stuff.
And it doesn’t matter what your occupation or persuasion. Whether you’re rich or poor. Old or young. Range Rover or 36-year-old Chevette. We’re all afraid of rejection.
This is because everyone cares about what other people think of them. Every last person reading this cares. The person writing this cares. You care. We all care.
Anyone who tells you they don’t care what others think about them is either a ginormous liar or a certifiable sociopath.
The question is, why are we writers so paralyzed by this fear? Is it disapproval we fear most? Unacceptance? Mediocrity? Are we afraid someone will tell us we’re talentless pukes?
Well, let me set your mind at ease, darling. All your worst fears will come true. Someone WILL call you a “talentless puke,” and perhaps even a “suck-egg mule.”
Some folks will disapprove of everything you do. And usually, these people will be the most vocal schmucks in the whole bunch.
These critics will constantly send mail to your editors in the form of “constructive feedback.” You will wonder whether these people have social lives at all.
I’ve had people email me “constructive feedback” about almost everything.
People have criticized my hairstyle, my body type, my facial features, my writing, my misspellings, you name it.
Recently—this is true—I received some constructive feedback in the form of a flaming paper sack on my front porch.
So I’m going to level with you. Sometimes, criticism is discouraging. Actually, criticism is ALWAYS discouraging. Oftentimes, criticism alone is enough to make you consider another career path in, say, commercial lawn maintenance.
There have been days when I cried and said to myself, “What am I doing? Why am I writing columns that so many people obviously don’t like?
I pour my heart into my work, only to sometimes have a single sentence picked apart by some person I’ve never met. Or worse, by a prominent politician.
That’s right. Recently, a Texas newspaper that carries this column forwarded me an unsavory response to something I wrote. My critic was a well-known politician who didn’t like what I’d written about tipping waitresses.
The politician said that Americans are expected to tip way too much, and that tipping is an “archaic and outdated custom that is grossly abused.” He called me a few choice names, akin to “suck-egg mule.”
His words were so hurtful that I almost quit writing altogether.
I told the editor of the paper I was withdrawing my column. But the editor called me directly. She was an older woman with a lovely west-Texan drawl.
She said, verbatim: “Listen, sweetie. I don’t care what that jackass said. Some folks in this world are so miserable the only taste of joy they ever get is when they take a bite out of your rear.”
So get out there and pass that kidney stone, friend. Don’t worry about your critics.
And if, by chance, a Texas politician is reading this: I hope you enjoyed your mouthful, sir.