For the past several weeks I have been filling in at my local newspaper, the Daily Globe. They’ve been a little short handed so they called in their second string. I’m okay with this moniker. I don’t want to be first string. First string would mean that I have to get up and go to work every day and, as I told my husband, bringing home a paycheck is hard work!
Ah, but it is rather nice to get paid for one’s writing.
On the other hand, I’ve had zero time to work on my book. Which to this point is showing no signs of generating a paycheck whatsoever. So I guess I’m okay with the occasional stint as a journalist.
I started out at the University of Oregon (GO DUCKS!) as a Journalism major. I planned to study Russian as well, and then go to Moscow as a foreign correspondent and uncover fabulous spy stories of the Cold War.
Only the Cold War pretty much ended before my career started. But, really, that’s not what ended my journalism career. It was J101 which did that. Grammar For Journalists – the class that every journalism major had to take – and pass with a “B” – in order to be accepted into the J School.
And so fall term of my freshman year began. I leaped into J101 and Russian 101 full of confidence, a smile firmly upon my face.
Four months later I waved goodbye to my dream. I didn’t pass that stupid grammar class – oh, I passed…as far as the University was concerned – but not as far as the precious J School was concerned. It was, in fact, the worst grade I ever got in my entire educational life: K-12, college and graduate school combined.
I could have taken it again. But I’d discovered something else during that term. I hated journalism.
I wanted to write creatively, free as a bird, with no strings attached, no rules, no horrid grammar police breathing down my neck.
Plus, I stunk at Russian, which, after failing to enter the coveted J School, seemed kind of like a waste of time anyway.
“I’m not competitive enough to be a journalist,” I told people when they asked me why I’d switched majors from Journalism to English.
Which possibly was true. But, the real truth is, I’ve learned a thing or two since then. One thing is that a major which actually provides a job when you graduate is a nice thing. Another is that forcing oneself to do something difficult in order to reach a goal is actually a good thing in the long run – and maybe, just maybe, majoring in English was a cop out. I tell people it’s a good thing I married an engineer ‘cause otherwise I’d be the proverbial starving artist living in a drafty garret somewhere.
Mostly what I’ve learned, though, is that I don’t actually hate journalism. Especially when I’m filling in and the expectations upon me don’t include me knowing when to say, “He said” or, “He says”. I have frequently heard writers thank their editors…now I totally understand why.
Over the past month I have learned more about insulation than I ever hoped to know. I have learned that not everyone will return a phone call, and not everyone wants attention brought to themselves or their situation. I have also learned that people are eager to thank others in print – which is lovely – and that they’re eager to share their story if it’s something they think others will benefit from. I have smiled during interviews, and shuddered (to myself) and marveled at the human spirit.
And I have to say, I really liked it when a person who makes his living off of speaking in front of vast crowds said to me, “You’re the writer. I trust you to make me sound good.”
“I’m a writer?” I thought to myself as I hung up the phone. “I’m a writer!”
The next day I introduced myself in a meeting as a writer. And my lovely friends in the crowd smiled and patted me on the back, and whispered, “Yes, you are.”
That was actually a rather marvelous moment in this flunked-out-of-J-School student’s life.
I have learned one other thing. I have learned that just as I tend to talk too much, I tend to write too much. There is beauty in brevity.
I’m still working on that one.
PS – Yesterday I posted this same basic post over on my other blog The View From My Window, which is connected with the Daily Globe, and is more local in focus. Audrey over at Minnesota Prairie Roots – who is a lovely friend and encourager – commented on it and said, “I find it difficult to believe that you would not do well in a grammar class when you went on to major in English. That’s pretty contradictory.”
This made me think (I love that about Audrey) and here was my response: I think that my problem with that grammar class was that it was so technical – it took the joy out of writing and made it stressful. I think I truly am a bit Bohemian in my approach to writing and all the rules and regulations were horrid. I have never liked or known the technicalities of grammar – I just use it properly and don’t care what it’s called! Taking apart sentences to name all the different parts just seemed – still seems! – sacreligious! But as an English major I just had to read and write – all of the technical stuff was left behind!
To that I add this: ever since 9th grade English class, when we had to diagram sentences and suddenly my “A” in English was threatened, I have found grammar to be irritating and suffocating. Yes, it’s vital that the basic rules of grammar are followed…but why do I have to know what a gerund is when I can use it properly without knowing the proper definition?!! (I know, I know, it’s an “ing” word…I do actually remember that one!) Here’s the deal: as a kid I read and read and read…and that taught me my grammar. Not Mr. L in 9th grade, and not professor whoeverhewas in college. If you want to be a writer, read, read, read. It’s that’s simple.
One more thought: I am NOT advocating not teaching grammar in our schools. American’s are bad enough with grammar already and it IS being taught. (If I see one more person on Facebook write, “I like that to,” for example, I am going to scream!!) I guess I’m just venting. Can you tell that I really, really, have issues with grammar?!!
Oh, and also this: I know that I use too many commas. And also that I’m not perfect, grammatically speaking. I figure, that’s what editors are for. :-)