Column writing just isn't getting any easier
Last updated 4/26/2023 at 4:41pm | View PDF
I had months to work on my very first column.
The Doings had recently been purchased by Pioneer Press and we were reformatting the paper. Editors at other Pioneer titles wrote weekly columns. Jim Slonoff said I should write one, too.
Fortunately, a guy named Tom Lauricella gave me all the material I needed when he penned a piece called "Deconstructing Hinsdale" for SmartMoney magazine's July 1999 issue.
I still remember the headline, which remains one of my favorites - "Hinsdale isn't filled with IGMs." The IGM, in case you're wondering, stands for "I've got mine." Lauricella picked up that phrase from an architect in town and then launched into a narrative that most of the people who were upset about teardowns in Hinsdale were angry because they used to have the biggest house on the block - until they didn't.
I won an Illinois Press Association award for that column. The judge, in his comments, said I skewered Lauricella without creating a bloody mess. I still remember that, too.
Slonoff, knowing I had been hesitant to commit to writing a weekly column, presented me with a lovely compilation of my first 100 columns for Christmas in 2001.
I have to say, column writing has gotten a lot more difficult in the past 22 years. First of all, the columns I wrote for The Doings were significantly shorter.
And I had yet to use all my great ideas! I had yet to write about the importance of listening to other people's stories or why I hate celery or how "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" really is a story about faith.
I've burned through quite a few column topics in the decades since. I continued to write a weekly column at The Doings until 2006, and then after a few months off, resumed writing one for The Hinsdalean.
I've tried to recycle topics here and there, with mixed success. The Great Pumpkin re-write stands out as the biggest failure, definitely not a 2.0.
Another challenge is that the nature of my work has changed. Column writing used to be a significant part of my job. If I didn't have an idea, I could spend an hour or two looking at other newspapers and other columnists online trying to find a topic.
Now I often don't finish my column (or sometimes don't start it) until Wednesday. I'm no longer just an editor - I'm half of the reporting staff as well and have to write news stories and sports stories and format obituaries and type up police reports and edit and write headlines and, well, you get the picture.
While I was trying to write one of those other pieces this week, I found myself listening to Andy Rooney's final broadcast back in 2012.
He spent more than 70 years writing, based off praise from an English teacher who told him he was a good writer.
"People have often told me I said the things they are thinking themselves," he said. "I probably haven't said anything here that you didn't already know or have already thought. That's what a writer does.
"There aren't too many original thoughts in the world. A writer's job is to tell the truth."
I suppose that is what I have tried to do since I started writing a column almost 24 years ago - to share the truth, as I perceived it, about things happening in my life and this town and sometimes the world.
And if I recycle a topic now and then, well, now I know I do it with Andy Rooney's blessing. I'm OK with that.
- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].