Chuck Brooks: Getting ideas from my brain to your news page
Howdy, y'all! This week, I thought I'd take you on a behind-the-scenes journey of how this weekly monologue gets to be the final product you read here each week. I know it's been a burning question on so many readers' minds, so if you're up for it, let's go!
There is one constant I rely on each week when I sit down to write the column. I am allowed two pages of double-spaced freedom with my thoughts. That equates to around 825 words. When I taught, that would stifle many of my students if I had asked for that much from them even once.
The column has to be submitted no later than mid-Monday morning. I prefer to get it in before the weekend. Lately, I'm slacking in that department. I've gotten too comfortable knowing I can still send it Sunday night. So, for example, this one is being written on a Friday afternoon.
The greatest challenge to writing these is always the topic. What am I going to write about this week? I have that thought many times in the course of each week. Heading into this week, for example, I knew I wanted to take you through this process, but all too often, I am searching my mind late into the week, and often weekend, for a topic worthy of discussing and reading.
December was both a blessing and a curse. I did not have to drum up ideas for each week's worth of your reading material. However, the curse came in the form of where my short story would lead you that month. The short story presented challenges the weekly topic picking didn't.
When I am involved in something like our visit to Rosemount Elementary School, or the assembly I just did with the parents for the senior class, or the mystery venture coming late February, then it's a no-brainer what I will be discussing here. Holidays often save me with material related to the days we celebrate. The weeks, however, that are simply no-nothing weeks are killers for my creative juices. Then it falls on my being able to drum up something new and different to explore via "The View From My Room."
When I need to find something worth writing about, I begin to think about what's happening in my world or our world. As much as I'd like to write about our political atmosphere, I choose to
refrain. I suspect people are pleased I steer clear from that area as well.
I can strike up a conversation with myself better than anyone. That's what I do when I hit a wall in the topic department. I allow a conversation to unfold on my laptop. And as I chat with me, suddenly, something presents itself as a talking point of merit. It's happened so many times, I rely on it to save me some weeks. When I was teaching and I'd find myself hurting for something to write about, I'd go to my trusty "From The Mouths of Babes" format. I'd ask my students a question and invited them to answer on a notecard if they wished to be in the mix for what I might choose to put in to my column that week. I was careful not to overuse it, but it came in handy.
Once I have my topic, then it's all about control. Last week's column about the assembly was darn near three pages in the first draft! I can't have three pages. I needed to edit nearly a page out of the draft. If you've never edited your words on paper, you don't know the challenge it presents.
The editing phase must be one that occurs with harsh severity by the writer. Thus, I go through my first draft each week and get rid of the drivel. Yes, folks. There's usually drivel in my initial thoughts. Sometimes I suspect a little of it even slips past me unnoticed. For the most part, however, I try to make the most out of the space I'm given. Being an English teacher, I've learned well about the editing process. I repeat, however. It's never ever easy. Trust me.
Once I believe I'm done and I like my final product, it's off to my reliable reader, who is also my longtime English department colleague, close friend and cat-sitter. She's honest and knowledgeable about grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. She won't allow me to publish schlock without bringing it to my attention. I'll always have the final say, but I listen to her well.
That's it. I then shovel it off to the paper and before you know it, I'm on to thinking about the next issue of "The View From My Room." And the beat goes on!
If you don't sleep better now, don't blame me. I tried my best here to allay any questions that might have been haunting you about how this happens each week. And in case you were wondering, I am at 835 words. Now 840. 842. Yikes!