Friday, March 20, 2009

Some Opportunities Are Just Plain Better Than Others....

Things seem to happen for a reason; sometimes quite unexpectedly, bringing joy in the most interesting forms. One day in 1992, I picked up a community weekly newspaper at a little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop after starting a new job with the State of California. I had recently changed jobs and work locations and my new work location away from the main headquarters held lots of interest given all of the opportunities to check things out on my walks to and from the bus stop.

Sitting in the coffee shop, I skimmed through the stories and ads in paper that day. The press of work had not yet caught up with me in my new job. As I sipped on a freshed squeezed cafe latte, there it was, a lonely little ad inside the back page: "Writer Wanted at community newspaper. Call for details or send resume and list of credits."

OK. So, the ad just got a smile out of me at first. Afterall, I hadn't majored in Journalism, didn't have a writing resume and couldn't boast of any writing credits---well, besides 20 years of business writing. Then, I thought, why not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Besides the coincidence was too strong that the paper was being run out of a small office only a block from my new job.

Fate couldn't have knocked on my door more loudly. Yet there was no joy when I stopped by with my professional resume which was chocked full of bureaucratic work experience and academic credentials. Did I mention none of it had anything much to do with writing? The scruffy-bearded publisher-editor-owner, sitting behind his manual type-writer in jeans and an open-collared shirt wasn't looking for a bureaucrat at the Suttertown News. And there I was in my brand new suit and tie, looking for all the world like the G-Man that I was.

But you know, sometimes an itch and a scratch are the very best of matches. Two weeks later I got a call from "Mr. Scruffy." Who cares that he was slightly desperate? I got my first assignment on a Wednesday with the final copy due the following Monday. And a week later, my second story became the cover story for the week. Soon after I was living the life and loving it, as a member of the editorial board, drinking free coffee with the rest of the gang, coming up with story ideas and making monumental news decisions for the "run on a shoestring" paper each week.

Thus began my three-year career in the newspaper business, chasing leads, pulling all-nighters to finish hot articles, joining paste-up parties the night before final copies went to the printers, and even making an occasional delivery to Espresso Metro, the little coffee shop downtown where I first caught the newspaper bug. The result was a momentary slice of Sacramento's history through the eyes of a novice journalist pretending as hard as he could to be a newspaperman.

If you get a similar chance to roll up your sleeves and get hands-on experience in journalism or in anything else that tickles your fancy, my advice is to jump first, then figure out what you are going to do....

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wanted: Muse With Attitude

Author seeks ruthless muse who will accept no excuses and permit no distractions even it if means sitting there in front of the blank screen until something---anything---comes out. AKA: Muse With Attitude.

We've all been there from time to time. All of a sudden, as if through miraculous cloning of the clock, there appears a block of time before us where none was expected. Amidst the days which become filled with life in high speed, you find yourself gifted with time to write.

Who knows why these things happen? They just do. An appointment gets cancelled, the picnic gets rained out or the Room Mother calls to report the fifth grade class already has enough drivers for the field trip today.

Mostly, it's best not ask questions or something else might come along to fill the vaccuum. Just take it and relish in the possibilities: finally you can reconnect with the draft of the last chapter of your YA novel; you can continue your search for something that rhymes with gastrocnemius; and then there is the slush pile---faintly, then louder, you hear the bits and pieces of brilliant ideas in their half-formed states crying out for a word here, a strike-out there. "Oh, what a time we'll have," you think. Just you and your words like a potter at the wheel.

Were it only that easy. Walking with purpose on the way to the desk, you pass that lurking laundry basket which hasn't had an exposed bottom for days, nay weeks. That newspaper sure looks inviting. When was the last time you read the Obits anyway? Isn't it about time to replace the baking soda and wipe the "sticky" off the shelves in the fridge? And what about those flower bulbs? OMG, I haven't blogged in weeks.

What was I thinking? There's no time to write.

Fear not! The muse with attitude is on her way. She laughs at laundry piles---clean laundry is a sign of misplaced priorities. News? Way overrated, she says. Besides the Obits aren't going anywhere. Forget those bulbs, you had your chance last winter.

And blogs? Now, that's a nice deception. The ordinary muse might be tricked by seeing you sit down at the computer and attack the keyboard. Pretty impressive, what with all the key tickling, poking, tapping, and urgent back-spacing. But the muse with an attitude will bring that ruse to an end quickly and without mercy.

So, grab a fresh cup of java if you must. But make it snappy. Time's a wasting and your mc is waiting. Besides, the muse has already written your note: "Please excuse all the mess. Author is the subject of divine intervention. What's for dinner, you ask? We'll get back to you on that...."