Tomorrow my first weekly column will be published in the Bay of Plenty Times. This situation has been cooking for several months. I’m shrugging it off like it’s not such a big deal, but actually it’s pretty cool.
I have no idea how my writing will translate over to a newspaper: what looks so delicious in a nice clean word document will appear tomorrow in grubby newsprint, flanked by grumpy letters to the editor, busy adverts and news articles about council, car crashes and craft fairs. Will my words make sense in that context? Will my column even be worth stopping for?
I keep meeting people who have heard that I’ve got a column on the way. They’ve seen the promotional photos of my beardy mug and they’re excited on my behalf. It’s weird. I know I can write well but I find myself wrestling with my fabricated version of everyone else’s expectations.
That I work at the city council adds a few extra twists. Some of my colleagues hope that I might be about to wield the mighty sword of truth on behalf of righteous democracy. Others wonder if my soul has been bought and paid for by the Bay of Plenty Times.
Nope and nope. The newspaper came knocking for Marcel the Poet and Writer, not for that Other Marcel who works at That Place. I’ve signed a conflict of interest form and I’ll be steering clear of everything directly related to the city council in the column. Besides, I do most of my writing at 5 o’clock in the morning – why would I want to write about work at that time of day?
All this expectation and build up has been accompanied by a sneaky undercurrent of stress that’s taken me a bit by surprise. Doing stuff in public is not all that relaxing. It makes me realise that potential success is just as stressful as potential failure. I have a sudden new appreciation for anyone who steps into the public sphere, whether they’re a politician, a singer or that crew on Seven Sharp.
My main battle is going to be with perfectionism. I have a bit of time each week to shape my little collection of words but I’m not a fast writer; I can spend months and years on a single poem. I like to craft each sentence with exquisite care. Not always a luxury I’m going to have.
I’ll also have to learn how to have an actual opinion about things. That’s scary in itself. What if I change my mind after the column is printed? What if I stomp my foot over a particular issue without understanding a fundamentally important piece of information? What if I look like a dick?
It’ll take me a few weeks to settle in, no doubt. I’ve written quite a few test versions to help myself tune up. (The Sonny Bill blog was one of those.)
Most of the first pieces I wrote were almost too funny; the editor had to ask me to tone down the random and turn up the sensible a bit. It’s a newspaper after all, not a creative writing showcase. But they got me in for my light touch and that is what I will try to bring to each column. I’ll find a way to weave in those funny prototype versions eventually, he he he…
This process so far has confirmed something for me, which is that I’m a writer and I love writing. I LOVE writing! Hopefully that’s enough to sustain me through whatever happens next.