“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” – Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.
A friend of mine recently got elected to a commissioner spot in a nearby county. One of his co-commissioners there has served for several decades and is well-known in the state – a sage of local politics. My friend told him about these columns I write. The old-timer looked at him sideways and asked, “He does what?”
There is no good political reason to write these things. In fact, for a local politician, it’s pretty stupid. Every time I take an unnecessary public stand on any issue, even if a majority agrees, it likely costs me in the polls. Human nature is that you can agree with what someone says fifty times but what sticks in your craw is the one thing they say that you didn’t like.
Although there is no reason to take a stand on every issue, for the life of me, I can’t understand why anyone would want to be in politics other than to make an argument. It’s not great pay and, locally, there isn’t much glory in it. There are better ways to pass time than trying to be popular for the sake of being popular.
But writing isn’t for everyone. Writing is work and it’s work that most people find disagreeable. Initially, I called this column the “County Forum” in hopes of generating some lively local debate. (And is there no one here that will defend the progressive agenda? Anyone?). In the couple of years I’ve been doing this, I’ve gotten virtually no counterargument, not by anyone who would put their name on it anyway. I have sometimes got, “You shouldn’t have said it that way.” As my favorite columnist, George Will, would reply: Well.
These columns were a subject on the Van Wert Topix website about a year ago when the economic development disagreements went public. If you’re not familiar with that particular online forum, it’s where most discussions end with one anonymous poster calling another a heroin addict. The subject could be donations to the United Way and someone’s a heroin addict by the end of it. One of the most commented-on threads there was titled “You kind of smell like cat pee.” A parade of genius and inspiration it is not.
Nonetheless, I was oddly proud of the thread generated there about Citizen Wolfrum because it maintained a decent level of discussion for a few days. One Citizen Wolfrum supporter asked one of my critics, “Why don’t you write a column and contradict what he’s saying.” The answer was “Writing columns isn’t my job.” I’ve got some bad news for you sunshine – It’s not my job either. It’s something I do for free and you can too.
Most people can say their opinions – write it as you would say it first. For me, the hardest part is the first draft. I just type straight through for about a thousand words without trying to make coherent sense in any of it. I did that with this column and every other one I’ve written. I never have an outline when I start and what I write in a first draft is mostly garbage – there are times I end up using nothing from it. But I get a framework for what I want to say and my thoughts start to organize.
Personally, I enjoy the rewriting part where I can cut and paste paragraphs and rewrite sentences until it all looks right to me. I can’t write in groups and I generally have to be sitting alone in a room with a television on. Everyone’s different – some people like to carry on a conversation while they write and ask for input. (Wierdos) You find your own process the more you do it.
Some don’t like the way I write and it’s fine not to be everyone’s cup of tea. Attempts at humor in particular are easily taken the wrong way. No matter how good the joke on a person of the Polish persuasion, it falls flat in Poland. But if someone doesn’t like your writing style, it at least means you have some style. For my money, bad style is better than no style at all – if people read what you say to find grammatical errors, then at least they’ve heard your argument. Ain’t no law you can’t use double negatives here and there to liven things up.
For me, the process takes about three hours in the late afternoon and early evening every Friday. I take time off from writing these things when I get busy with other projects at the law office, commissioners’ office, or when someone destroys one of my rental properties. I would enjoy people taking over for a week here and there as guest columnists but there still doesn’t seem to be a groundswell for it.
I don’t have a column in the paper because I’m a commissioner and I didn’t have the one before because I’m an attorney. I have one because I take the time to do it and I meet the deadlines the editor gives me. If you want your own column in the paper, there’s no trick to it. Send them one – they generally will put it in if it’s an honest attempt. Then send them another one. Anyone can have a regular column in a newspaper and anyone with seven dollars a month can have a blog. You could be the next Dave Barry but you have to write the first one.