I didn’t have to start with an obituary. Most cub reporters do. I did my share, but an obituary wasn’t my first assignment. Obits are stories that should make you wish you had met the person you are reading about. They tell the parts of a person that are tangible and real, the Legos of their life. Years later, finding the forgotten, unevenly cut yellowed piece of newsprint in a drawer, should make you pause. For just a minute.
That is what good writing does. For your family. For your business. For your customers. It is a reason to ponder.
I thought my book report on “Why Brutus really was JC’s friend” got me the job. I admit, I was a bit miffed that the editor and owner of The Advance read it and – get this, actually edited it. I submitted it to show Norm what a brilliant writer I was. Not to have him add a bunch of circles and arrows to my pages.
I actually got the job because my English teacher, Mr. Mel believed me when I said I really wanted a summer job where I could write and make money. Working at the Coffee Cup was fine, but it wasn’t writing.
And oh yeah, there was a government grant for hiring students. Norm told me that part later.
I was so excited to be a cub reporter. With a company truck too. Not a fancy one, it was big and loud and red and white – a chev I think. And he kept it full of gas for me as I drove to the surrounding small towns and wrote up interesting stories about…well, small-town stuff. Like the first ATMs coming and what the farmers thought of getting their money out of a computer that obviously couldn’t be trusted.
Norm taught me how to develop black and white photographs, how to take a decent picture with a camera worth more than my (his) truck, and how to type on my old black typewriter in time for Monday morning deadlines.
My desk was big, wooden, and sturdy. I hung up comic strips and editorials that made me ponder things I had never considered. I picked up the mail and, for the first time in my life realized that it was true. There were magazines that came in plain brown wrappers, with no return business name on the envelope.
Irene told me to never open those ones – just put them on Norm’s desk. The articles must have been very interesting.
Irenes’ daughter Elaine was the typesetter. She was a tiny woman, not married, staying in the small town because her very nervous mom needed her. It was my job to walk Irene home when she was done her day, even though she lived only a couple of blocks away.
The Senior Reporter… I can’t believe I don’t remember her name… she went to all the Important council meetings. Was it Joyce maybe? She could write a story about sidewalks being built adjacent to the roads that were so compelling you would cheer for Team Sidewalk, buy season tickets, and spray paint trash graffiti on any road that dared be in the way!
I asked her when she was going to write a novel. It seemed a sin against libraries everywhere when she said she had absolutely no desire. She was a reporter. And when she wasn’t a reporter anymore, she would read. But never write. I was flummoxed. How could someone be so talented and not want to write a book? I knew Norm was rewriting a novel centered around golf. I’m not sure if he’s done yet.
Elaine (the typesetter) didn’t write, but she could type. Fast. The gents in the back wore ink-stained aprons and created negatives sent to the printers so that on Wednesday morning we would get stacks and stacks of papers to be mailed. The smell was a perfume of autumn leaves, old books, and scarred hardwood. The offset printers in the back were only used for cards and note pads and small bits of printed fun. Barry and Barry (was that really their names?) would have taught me how to work them. They showed me how they worked. But I wish I had taken the time to put on one of those ink-stained aprons, just once.
Of course, I was not just a gonna-be, but an actual writer. When I interviewed the firefighters about the new piece of equipment just donated, I took the picture of them alongside the fire truck in full gear. I developed the picture, wrote the article, and created the cutline to caption the picture. I typed what needed to be typed on my old black lovable clunky typewriter and left it with Elaine to format and create.
Spelling was a tough one for me and she often automatically corrected errors when Norm had not looked at my copy…. “I before e except after c” was one he never quite managed to make automatic but I still never spell Receive without singing that mantra in my head. With my fire hall story, Elaine found what she was sure was an error and my copy came back to my desk.
But she was wrong and I loved it! This one I knew. Not because I had looked it up – but because the firetruck guys had told me the word and I knew how to spell it. Elaine tried again and honestly, I was a little bugged as I assured her it was correct. I knew how to spell wench. I was a writer. Not just a typist.
My cutline was specific to the newly donated winch mounted on the back of the fire truck. The picture showed all the volunteer firefighters crowded around and loving their brand new “wench”.
Of course, the letters to the editor were inspired that week. One example stands out “How rough is it when a volunteer fire department must have a wench at all calls – and a donated one at that! Most departments are satisfied with a winch, to help them out of rough situations. But our town volunteers require a mounted wench….”
I never discounted an editor again. Ever. And never will.
Norm taught me to write “pen” vs Bic – unless you’re selling Bics. And use old newspapers to wrap gifts. It’s cheap but if you are in the business, it’s also chic. But do it cause you’re too smart to buy wrapping paper.
When I broke my foot in gym class senior year, I could feel a column percolating…. especially when the town doctors initially did not see the break and let me hobble in pain for a week without a cast. My column – Norm edited it- was Dave Barry (before I had ever read him!) level satirical comedy. And the doctors wrote back. It was small-town weekly newspaper gold.
I could smell a regular column. My ticket to fame and future book deals. And Norm said absolutely. Write and there is a place for your words. Edited words, of course.
And I wrote 100’s of editorials. Stories really. Finely crafted. Deliberate in nature and well-worded. With just a hint of inspiration and thinly veiled hubris.
But they never made it onto paper. It was a huge opportunity to write, and be read, that I left sitting just behind Broca’s area deep inside my parietal cortex. My cutting room floor up there is full of imagined sweepings that might have made editors weep with joy and small-town readers post my words on their harvest gold-colored fridge doors.
I’m not doing that anymore. And I’m not leaving your ideas behind either. Let’s strategize and build your message – your ad, your newsletter, and your story. It’s how we can build your business. Faster than if you just keep imagining what you will do. Let’s take a bite and do it.
What is the Why of your What? And the What of your Why? I am very curious about your story. So are your customers. And a few people who would be your customers, perhaps, if we told them your story. The best part is, you might have forgotten your story. But we can find it.
I will help you find it, strategize, and write it because your customers are waiting to receive it. (That one’s for you Norm)
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