Writing Like This

Every man’s memory is his private literature.
— Aldous Huxley

Years ago, I worked as a reporter and photographer for a weekly newspaper in a small town in the interior of southern British Columbia. I no longer work in that field but for a time that is what I did.

The publisher of this small paper had a policy of allowing, even requiring, his editorial staff to write a weekly personal column. So every week, the editor, a chatty intelligent woman younger than me by a couple of years, and me, the lone reporter, would struggle to compose something of our own in this small town of loggers, ranchers, native people and small business owners.

Even though I had written for several weekly newspapers and trade publications, this was something new in my experience. It was enormously freeing to be paid to write almost anything I wanted to, to get away from the structure of standard, boring newspaper writing, if only for those few column inches each week. This was only one of the ways that Ossie, the publisher, a small energetic man of German background, displayed his perceptive good nature… and perhaps sought to provide the editorial staff with something to enjoy, since he wasn’t paying very much.

It became the highlight of my week. What was I going to say this week, and how was I going to say it. I wrote about rodeos, my car, William Wordsworth, native sweatlodge ceremonies in which I participated, gentle satires on small town living, my take on the absurdities of life… Tremendous potential for self-indulgence, but I tried to write well, and truly, and although some columns were duds, some were well received. I am still proud of a lot of what I wrote.

An outsider temperamentally, and a true outsider in this town where I lived and worked for only two years, I still became a part of the community, just from sheer showing up at events and not offending too many people. And folks do like to see their photos in the newspaper, and that is a lot of what I did.

But I came to feel limited in what I could write about. First of all, I didn’t want to come off too wierd. Secondly, I didn’t want to present myself as being too intellectual, too literary, too pretentious. Although I may well have failed in this with many people. And thirdly, I couldn’t offend anybody, or especially, any identifiable groups – I had to live and work in this place, and I depended on gathering information from people for the regular newspaper work.

Still, I would work in a fever of expression on my column, sometimes late at night on my own time, caught up in what I could say, and in the polishing and refinement of it. The next day, especially when the new edition hit the streets, I would start to have sober second thoughts about my previous fervor. What peculiarity had I wrought on my image this time… Assuming anybody had actually read the thing.

It came to be a mixture of dread and fascination as I tried to devise something interesting to write about every week, teetering on a sharp ridgeline of brazen thought on one side and practical discretion on the other.

All this is a long-winded way of saying how much I appreciate the freedom of this blog deal. I have virtually no audience to worry about, and those that may happen by won’t care much. But I can imagine an occasional audience and that faint and distant image is enough to motivate me to write what I can as best I can.

I like (at the risk of pretentiousness) what Thoreau wrote:

“I desire to speak somewhere without bounds; like a man in a waking moment, to men in their waking moments; for I am convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of true expression.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Remembering, Writing

4 Comments on “Writing Like This”

  1. bloglily Says:

    A wonderful essay. I thought of this as I was reading it: “So long as you write what you wish to write that is all that matters. And whether it matters for ages or for hours, no one can say.” I don’t think that’s an excuse for not writing truly and well (as you so beautifully put it) — it’s about liberating yourself from your audience and, in so doing, freeing yourself to write things that matter. I’m bookmarking your site and looking forward to reading more.

  2. fencer Says:

    Thanks for your kind remarks.  It is certainly life-affirming when somebody gets what you meant… and I appreciate your implication that there may be more to come worth reading!

  3. […] Quirk. This former journalist, current fencer, thinker, water colorist is a fine writer. His thoughts on how blogging has changed the way he writes and thinks about writing can be found in this essay: https://fencer.wordpress.com/2006/05/05/writing-like-this […]

  4. […] Both Fencer and Writer Chick (hat tip to sonael) asked recently “what is blogging for?” Rebecca Blood gives this answer: The blogger, by virtue of simply writing down whatever is on his mind, will be confronted with his own thoughts and opinions. Blogging every day, he will become a more confident writer. A community of 100 or 20 or 3 people may spring up around the public record of his thoughts. Being met with friendly voices, he may gain more confidence in his view of the world; he may begin to experiment with longer forms of writing, to play with haiku, or to begin a creative project–one that he would have dismissed as being inconsequential or doubted he could complete only a few months before. […]

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