Do you dream of being a columnist? Have you already started writing columns for local publications or your favorite online magazine?
Column-writers know there is simply no truth to the persistent and romanticized image of the columnist: standing on a balcony in his bathrobe, a glass of whiskey in one hand, reminiscing and awaiting the godly spark to come to him. Once the spark is there, the column reveals itself and he writes it in one breath.
In 15 years writing columns, I’ve learned that it’s more about blood, sweat and tears than about making contact with the muse.
In fact, column writing is very much like a good marriage: it’s hard work.
Writing a good piece of all-in-one-shot text once isn’t that difficult. Writing a great column every week, year after year, is.
Great columnists have one thing in common: perseverance.
I want you to have that, too.
I want you to go on where other columnists stop. Those other columnists come to a point where they consider their column finished. They are done with it.
OK, the text could have been a little sharper here and there, but hey, the point was made, wasn’t it? This is what the reader is going to get.
But if a columnist is easily satisfied with his own work, laziness and sloth will soon take over.
And that’s good news for you! Be happy with such competitors. Where they would typically stop, you will press forward.
You will keep on scraping and polishing your column. Staring at it, re-reading it, striving to discover that tiny part of text that can still be improved. You do that because you have discipline and an eye for perfection.
A good columnist always puts 10 percent more effort into his work than his colleagues do.
So invest in your columns, with both time and effort. Do you really want to get published? If so, you’ll just have to give everything.
In the end, that extra effort will truly pay itself back. I guarantee it.
No one is a born columnist — but you can learn
Writing columns is far more a skill than an art. It is 10 percent talent but 90 percent learnable craft.
I always compare it to the profession of a cabinet maker. With sufficient devotion and a good mentor, everyone can produce a beautiful piece of furniture in the end.
Nobody is a born carpenter. Nobody is a born master of art or a virtuoso musician. And nobody is a born writer or columnist.
Don’t believe the myth of sudden success popping up out of the blue. What really pays off will take a while. Look at mother nature. It takes a lot more than one day for a sunflower to grow from a little seed to an impressive seven-foot high stalk.
Writing columns — and gaining competence and proficiency — is a matter of patience and perseverance. I’ve been writing professional columns since 1998 and I’m still learning more about it every day.
Many columnists literally typed text into their computers night after night for more than ten years before they finally found success.
Column-writing practice begets perseverance
How do those stellar columnists persevere? Easy: by loving what they do.
You must want it, be eager. You should want nothing more than to write columns. Search for subjects, scrape and shape your texts — do these things simply because your work can always be a little bit better. The only way to persist is to like what you’re doing.
Writing columns requires practice. Training. Experience. Ira Glass has talked about this, insisting that time (years, not just months) and experience are required to develop a body of work that makes you proud.
Reading reveals writing tactics that work
You’ll have to read a lot. Reading other columns is always a good thing. Learn from the columnists you admire, from the ones that write in a way you like. Pay attention to their use of language.
Try to find out what it is exactly that makes their columns so good. How did they structure the text? Where is the humor hidden? Is the magic in the details, or in the approach, or in something else?
You can learn a lot from such an analysis. You’ll get familiar with style forms and in due time, you’ll develop your own writing style, which the reader will then recognize.
Feeling motivated now? Get ready to practice your best column-writing.