Friday, March 26, 2010

The Writing Life

Five years ago this October, I walked out of the Post-Dispatch for the last time. Yet just last week a well-meaning woman came up to me to say she reads my articles in the Post all the time.

“I write some travel stories for the Post now and then,” I said, “but I left that paper some time ago.”

The woman asked whether I was enjoying my retirement. I retired from the Post, but I have not retired from earning a living, I replied. She asked what I’m writing now.

Ten minutes later, I paused for a breath. Later, I realized how lucky I am. One of the reasons I always loved daily journalism was that I did something entirely different every day. Happily, that is still true, only now I find myself working on three or four different assignments in a single day.

In that regard, I am juggling oranges – and trying not to make juice.

Before I launch into a litany of current work, I want to say something about work I completed last Sunday evening. I had the privilege of writing the script for the Fifth Annual Kevin Kline Awards ceremony, which took place Monday night.

Scripts for award shows consist primarily of patter for presenters who must eventually say “And the nominees are…” Kline awards are given out in 22 categories, and most of them this year were presented in pairs, so I worked with a lot of people, generating patter, shaping patter, rewriting shaped patter and then tweaking rewritten patter. In one month, I crafted seven drafts of the script, which is typical.

I love the theater and I love theater people, so this job was a lot of fun. Even more fun was sitting in the audience on Monday night, listening to the audience laugh at lines I wrote for the presenters! What a great assignment!

Daily journalism is not part of my life anymore, but weekly journalism is. For the past year, I have been writing features and news stories for the St. Louis Jewish Light – profiles, advance pieces on special events, interviews with individuals who have achieved fitness goals or advanced medical science in some way and even a travel story about Jewish attractions in San Francisco.

“Thank you for letting me do journalism,” I said to Larry Levin, the publisher, at a luncheon late last year. I love the work. I like and respect the people I report to and I enjoy meeting the people I interview.

For the past year, I also have written for several national grocery store magazines, working with a company that publishes the magazines and the occasional calendar. I get terrific emails from my boss there: “Are you available to write 200-250 words on honey in 48 hours?” or “Can you jazz up a story from our files on soup?” or “I need 150 words on white beans – are you up for that?” I am always available, always willing, always up for that. Fun stuff!

The visitors’ association in a small town in Alaska approached me some months ago about a tourism marketing campaign. I responded to their request for proposals, and I got the job. Alaska is a favorite state of mine, and the research was as much fun as the writing. A friend who works for the Catholic Health Association has come calling three times, assignments in hand. A small arts organization calls on me for help with publicity and newsletters from time to time.

Recently, I edited a book for a doctor, and he says he’ll contact me when it’s time to put together a marketing plan. Two organizations have approached me about writing books, and I have put together a proposal for a third. And I still take great pleasure in leading writing workshops, where we all write together and surprise each other (and ourselves) with what we have to say on any given day.

So in case anyone asks, I am no longer at the Post-Dispatch. Except for rare occasions, you can’t read my writing in those pages anymore. Yet I am writing, and people are reading. Perhaps more importantly, I am earning a living writing, as I have since my first newspaper job more than 40 years ago.

Here’s what crime novelist Mickey Spillane had to say about that: “My speed depends on the state of my bank account. When it’s necessary, I can write 5,000 words a day.”


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