Writing about writing

I just spent the weekend doing about as much boozing and as little of everything else as I did last weekend.

But it was for a good cause this time – I had my first visit from a friend from back home, so it was my duty to show her all my haunts and make her eat lobster at every single place we went to.

And if that wasn’t enough to keep me busy, I also moved house today. Now I’m sitting out on the porch with a can of sore-back medicine (beer), and I realized I didn’t share today’s column.

It’s pretty meta – writing about writing – but I guess the paper was pretty hard up for content today so it got printed. Hooray!

Deadline or not, Maine seems made for writing

It took a move halfway across the world and a newspaper column to rekindle a lifelong love for putting pen to paper, writes Adrian Crawford.

“May is one of those lucky months,” I overconfidently told my editor a couple of Thursdays ago. “It has five Sundays, so I get an extra week to come up with a new column. I’m free for another week at the very least.”

I say “overconfidently” because, 24 hours before deadline, I realized that my math was way off.

Far from the luxury of having a couple of weeks up my sleeve, I was suddenly facing the scary prospect of having a dry well of material.

Uh-oh.

The lure of this business for me, in high school at least, was that it was the best way I could think of to earn a living while doing the one thing I’ve always had a knack for: writing. My other motive for getting into journalism is that, to my mind, it would never involve numbers. As you can probably already tell, they’re not my strong point.

In any case, I managed to avoid the embarrassment of not having something ready to submit, a mere two weeks before my probationary period was up, by churning out a piece at 1 a.m. that was admittedly quite simple to write, because it was about food. Talk about your close calls.

After that, I got to thinking. This column has given me the opportunity to compare and contrast the differences and similarities between where I live now and where I’m from, and I’ve waxed nostalgic about a range of different topics from sports to sandwich spreads, and many things in between. But I’d never really taken the time to be introspective about what I now do for a living.

Back home, I worked for the Web department of Australia’s taxpayer-funded broadcaster, which is affectionately nicknamed “Aunty.” I worked for two years on the news side of things, and then spent four and a half years on the sports desk.

Since I worked almost exclusively evenings, I’d fill a couple of mornings a week teaching undergrad journalism courses at my alma mater, and the fact that they hired me at all after my average performance as a student never ceased to amaze me. During the three or so years that I taught at Queensland University of Technology, one of the biggest lessons I tried to drum into my 18-year-old students was “don’t start writing your stories the night before they’re due. You need to give yourself plenty of time to get your interviews in the can and the words on the page. If you can’t make deadline at university, you’ll never make it in the real world.”

But I could barely keep a straight face as I said it, knowing full well that I’m wired to perform best under pressure. Even when they turned in their stories or papers, I would rarely start grading them until a couple of nights before I had to hand them back, because I didn’t have that fire lit under my backside.

My old job didn’t have set deadlines — when you’re only writing for the web, “now” was always the deadline. So, by comparison, having the better part of two weeks to mull over, write and proof my next column feels like something of a luxury. And yet I still can’t help but let nine of those 10 days disappear before I scare myself into sitting down and putting fingers to keys.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the constants in my life has been writing. I’d compose my own versions of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel series for my family to read, and my idea of fun was designing newspaper front pages with headlines based on what was in the nightly news. One that sticks in my mind, hilariously, had to do with some guy I’d heard of on TV in 1990 named “Saddam, who is saying.” Apparently, 5-year-old me couldn’t decipher “Hussein.”

As I grew up, so did my subject matter. I spent a good couple of years writing a blog that recorded the post-college drinking adventures of my friends and I, but I ceased production once I got a real job (and was afraid to be sprung by my bosses). At age 22, after my first vacation to the U.S., I had such bad post-holiday blues that I sat down and wrote what turned out to be a two-volume 80,000-word travel diary that exists in hardcover in a carton in my sister’s garage.

But as I worked longer and more unforgiving hours as a sports journalist, the desire to do my own writing fell by the wayside. My former roommate and co-worker — himself an extremely talented literary brain — and I used to make the same excuse: that after sitting at a computer all day for work, we just didn’t want to write on our own time.

Things have certainly changed in the past six months though. I’d say I’m working more hours in the average week at the newspaper than I did on the sports desk back home, and yet some days all I want to do when I get home from work of an evening is sit and write. I began a blog shortly after I arrived here, initially to keep friends and family back home in the loop, but it’s now blossomed into equal parts a chronicle of my first year in Maine, and something resembling self-analysis and introspection, with the odd road trip story or “here’s where I had too many beers last night” yarn.

And I assume it’s something in the Maine water or the air or just being in the presence of so many great writers — from Stephen King to some of my newspaper co-workers — but I’ve even decided to take the plunge and write the book that I think I’ve always had in me.

I’d never worked at a newspaper before I arrived in Augusta, much less written a column in print. After my debut, I panicked at the thought that my material would get stale fast if I only wrote once a month, so I moved to the first and third Sundays. Predictably, I then panicked again that I wouldn’t be able to come up with enough content that’s worth reading.

But as it’s turned out, the longer I’m in Maine, the harder it is to shut me up.

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