When Writing Stops Being Fun. . .

Longtime journalist Barnard Law Collier, who now lives in Barbados, often adds a comment to a post that is more interesting than the post. Here’s his reaction to a July 3 post, “Writing Is Fun. No, It’s Not.”

Dear Jack,

When I was about eight years old, my dad, who was a lawyer, told me:

“If I had the time, I’d write you a short letter.”

He was a fan of Mark Twain and quoted him often. Dad also told me another Twain dictum:

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Writing Is Fun. No, It’s Not.

I like the writing very much. I often ask my writing friends if they like to write and they always say that they don’t. They love the research, perhaps the fun after a book is published, but not the task of writing. I think that it is the glory of the work. You have assembled all of this information. You have thought about it. You have dreamed about it. You’re ready. You are bursting with all of this and then you have this meticulous, but somehow not entirely rational, process of organizing it so that you communicate it transparently to other human beings. That is great fun.

Life as a Reporter at Small Newspapers: “You Still Didn’t Get It Right”

In the wake of the five murders at the Annapolis Capital, there has been some reporting on what it’s like working at smaller local newspapers versus working at bigger papers like the Baltimore Sun, the Capital’s current owner, or the Washington Post.

Here’s a post about Barbara Holland’s life as a reporter at a weekly paper in Loudoun County, Virginia, also near Washington. While the Loudoun paper was smaller than the Annapolis Capital, the two papers shared an almost total focus on local news.
For readers of the Washington Post, New York Times, and other big city papers it’s ever harder to read about someone you actually know, or have seen in person. The obit sections of big newspapers seem—probably for reasons of digital traffic—increasingly about people of national and international renown.

Some Recent Background on the Annapolis Capital

The Annapolis Capital was founded in 1884. Its sister paper, the Maryland Gazette, was founded in 1727 and is one of the country’s oldest newspapers.

In 1967, the Capital was sold by Elmer Jackson Jr., a local owner, to Philip Merrill, who left the State Department to become its owner and publisher. While in college, Phil had been an editor of the Cornell Sun and early in his career he had worked with television journalist Mike Wallace as a researcher so his love for journalism was not new.

What’s Getting Lost in the Amped-Up Speed of Digital Journalism

At a time when journalism seems crowded with celebrities, literary journalism pays respect to ordinary lives. Literary journalists write narratives focused on everyday events that bring out the hidden patterns of community life as tellingly as the spectacular stories that make headlines….Stories about wandering, work, and family—about the things that happen all the time—can reveal the structures and the strains of real life. They say more about most citizens’ lives than do stories of singular disasters or quirky celebrities.

Appointing Supreme Court Justices Doesn’t Seem That Important Until It’s Time to Do It

In 1968 I took a break from journalism to be a Congressional Fellow, a program that brings journalists and political scientists to Washington for a year to learn something about how Congress operates. I ended up in the Senate office of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, becoming in effect an assistant press secretary.

It was a tumultuous year, with Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy challenging President Lyndon Johnson in the early 1968 primaries, mostly over Vietnam.

As Washington Becomes a Political War Zone, Look for More Talk of Moving the National Government Out of DC

While President Trump has been an ever more polarizing figure in Washington since November 8, 2016, it was clear from the start that the nation’s capital has become ever more hostile to Republicans. The city has gone from 2016’s “We don’t want you here, Mr. Trump” to the current “You and your people are not welcome to live in our neighborhoods or eat in our restaurants.”

See this post from three days after the election that was an early warning to President Trump and his administration:

No Warm Welcome to Washington for You, Mr. Trump

“She Was Sly, Shrewd, Secretive, Insightful, and Unbelievably Funny”

From a Washingtonian interview with Stephen Rosenfeld, editor of the Washington Post editorial page, in June 2000:

Q. Who were the stars at the Post during your four decades?

A. Meg Greenfield was most special for me. As editorial page editor,  she had a quicksilver mind and greater penetration of issues than any other journalist I’d seen. She was sly, shrewd, secretive, insightful, and unbelievably funny. She had her moods, but she examined policies and programs deeply, as well as the human condition broadly.

No, You Can’t Tell Much About a Writer By Listening to Him

In the preface to the book, Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins, the legendary book editor is quoted as saying: “You can tell more about a writer by listening to him than by reading something he wrote.”

Perkins dealt mostly with fiction writers, which may be why that seems so at odds with what I found working with writers. Early on as an editor, I got burned time after time by relying too much on how well a writer talked about a story. After paying too many kill fees, I learned to talk with prospective writers but then read what they previously had written before saying yes to a story.

Annals of the Magazine Sub Game—Not the Atlantic, Too!

The Atlantic under the ownership of David Bradley ran one of the saner circulation departments: You paid $24 for one year (10 issues) and there was none of the let’s-see-how-dumb-the-reader-is salesmanship increasingly used by other magazines.

But a note I got today from a literary agent suggests that the Atlantic, now owned by Lauren Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs, may be moving toward getting renewals that new way. His sub expires in November but the Atlantic says: RENEW NOW….When you renew today, we will upgrade you to our premium Print+Digital subscription—absolutely FREE, with no additional cost or obligation. Claim your free upgrade….So act now to take advantage of this special offer—and start enjoying your new exclusive benefits! Renew Now.” No more low-key David Bradley—lots of the new FREE-ACT NOW-SPECIAL OFFER salesmanship.