Friday, April 18, 2014

Snakes on (the same page as) a Train

“M’dville Council hears flooding brings snakes: ‘Snakes were everywhere,’ said Bonner”

“Could train cars blocking M’dville streets cause death?”

If those two headlines on a front page don’t grab you, nothing will. But, we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Writer’s block is particularly fun when you make your living largely by your ability to turn events into stories.

For example, the ol’ “please kill me” feeling comes in when I have to make a BOOOORRRRRRRIIIIINNNNGGGG governmental meeting into something at least somewhat interesting. 

I’ve written more about garbage than I care to admit: coal ash, toxic waste, leachate, garbage routes, garbage carts. Some of this has been interesting, both to me and evidently my readers, while most of it is painfully boring. Painfully. Boring. Like a toothache during a bad play.

Or, maybe my challenge is trying to write about a blow-out loss by an area high school football team. I really want to write something like this sometime:

“The XYZ Fierce Cats lost 56-0, embarrassing themselves, their fans, and their mommas while failing to gain a single first down and fumbling the football on every possession. This is the worst football team anyone could imagine seeing.”

Instead, this is what I might magically produce:

“The youthful XYZ Fierce Cats put up a tremendous effort but had a rough night on the road, losing 56-0 in a hard-fought game.”

The only “tremendous effort” put forth may have been them trying to figure out how to get their pads on correctly, that’s true. The only thing “hard-fought” may have been the Fierce Cats finally being able to break through their run-through sign on their second effort. But, there’s no glory in beating up kids in their local newspaper with such brutal truthfulness.

OK, back to snakes and trains. Those are the two headlines my publisher came up with for this past week’s Moundville Times, and I love them. Is it sensationalized news? I don’t think so.

Our job is to get people in our area talking about the issues. If the flooding brings snakes, and people are concerned about snakes, then they’ll be concerned about flooding and what it takes to fix the problem. They’ll stay around to read about the rest of the city council meeting, too.  Attention-grabbers are good things for the bottom line of a newspaper, no doubt, but they also help us spread the good or not-so-good news in a community.

Part of the charm of a community, weekly newspaper is the ability to have a little fun with the news, but we have to remember to be respectful of people. Stories about deadly situations or circumstances are not the place for bad puns or clever headlines. “10 Dead Near Kellogg’s Factory; ‘Cereal Killer’ Feared” is great for a cheap laugh but not much else.

So, if being too clever is a danger, what if you can’t seem to produce anything? What if you stare at your notes and your screen and nothing happens? It’s an impotent, stupid feeling.  Writer’s block is a horrible feeling. Part of it comes from fear. What if I say something stupid? What if I misunderstood what happened? What if someone think I’m a horrible writer? What if someone complains? And, part of writer’s block comes from writers taking themselves too seriously. I figure somewhere around 10,000 people pick up our newspapers every week. Is what I’m producing good enough? Shouldn’t it be better? Why can’t I be perfect?

I finally got over the worst of my writer’s block by realizing what I write doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s ok to screw up a word or a grammar rule on occasion. It’s fine if I don’t have perfect parallel structure or if I let my participle dangle from time to time. Haha. Ha. Snicker. 

While I take my job seriously in that I really feel a heavy burden to accurately record the area’s history and to tell stories well and impartially, copies of the newspaper are recycled in gardens and used as puppy pads and bird cage liners. That’s humbling.

So, write. Lose your fear of expressing yourself. Just write.


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