How I Write

Over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, my requiem for Phil (and circumstantial paean to solidarity) made the rounds online and in the process two different people made the same suggestion: why don’t I submit it to The Oregonian? I thought I’d answer that here.

First things first: I’ve a pretty good track record of getting things into The Oregonian, because when I need to I can hone a message down into the requisite 500-600 words, as long as it’s something I’m writing expressly for that purpose. To my recollection, none of my submissions ever has been edited.

Here’s the second thing: that blog post is just under 1,700-words long. Not only do I not have any idea how I’d get that down to 600 words, I wouldn’t even want to try.

(Speaking of The Oregonian, Nicole Hayden wrote maybe the best article on what was happening at The Belmont Goats; it got syndicated via AP and ended up on newspaper websites across the country.)

Someone, somewhere, in the face of such statements, inevitably suggests that you’re being “too precious” about your words, but here’s the third thing: words are precious. I didn’t cough up that blog post in ten minutes, dashing off whatever came to mind. The first half took an afternoon, an evening, and a night. The second did come a little faster, in the early afternoon the next day, because I was angry and that can focus things.

The “message” in something like this isn’t just some bare minimum, lowest common denominator of what is said, but also how it is said, and how it provides its own context to the things it is saying. It’s not exactly “the medium is the message” but I trust you get what I mean.

It’s true that I spent three years covering local Portland politics and such as an independent blogger, but I did it that way because I’m congenitally incapable of writing for someone else. That’s a very particular, and very different skill than writing in and of itself. You have to be the equivalent of an actor, being able to apply your talents to the intents and directions of someone else. My best college papers happened when I said “fuck it” and did whatever I damned well wanted to do.

What I’d wanted said in that post about Phil and about human beings, and what I’d felt should be said, got said the way I’d felt it needed to be said. Would it be nice if readers of The Oregonian somehow could get the “message”, too? Sure. But I can’t write for other people. For better or for worse, I only can write for me.