It was four years ago today I wrote my first column for The Roanoke Star-Sentinel.
Now, 114 columns later I took a look at what I have produced. When I started out I had no, I mean no, formal training in writing and I hope I have learned a few things.
Stuart Revercomb is to be admired for his almost single-handed management of the paper. He has had a lot of good help, but the idea, its implementation, and its continuation have largely been orchestrated by him. Being asked to be a regular contributor has given me an outlet that I have enjoyed and I hope will continue.
The titles of my offerings have been quite varied. There have been some articles that have been personal but I have kept my eyes open for other topics, those of a more general interest. That, in itself, has been valuable because I pay more attention to what’s happening than I otherwise might. Knowing that I have to produce something on a regular basis has sharpened by observations.
The temptation to use the column for personal opinion is not easy to resist, nor is that necessarily bad. The editor has the right, although in my case it has never been exercised, to moderate what a columnist writes. It is, after all, the contributor’s column and short of outrageous articles, they are best left as close to their author’s views as possible. No one is required to read them and certainly, no one is required to agree. In the press in general, there are columnists who I regularly read and those that I regularly avoid. That says much more about my personal preferences than it does about the newsworthiness of the articles.
In these four years I have accumulated enough for a book . . . one that I will not assemble. That brings to mind the question: What will happen to all I have written, the columns, the books, the poetry, after I have shuffled off the mortal coil?
I have some experience with that. My father was a minister who over the course of his life produced more than four thousand sermons, each with a manuscript. After his death, I was troubled about what to do with his life’s work. I went through and picked out a few from each decade and gave them to his church’s archives where, I suspect, they will lay untouched. The remainder, I took to a recycling center and heaved them into the dumpster labeled File Paper.
It was not a happy feeling, but I rationalized it by thinking each was written for a specific audience at a specific time. Someone who heard it may have profited so its job was done; the sermons could be discarded. If a similar thing happens to my thousands upon thousands of pages, my heirs should not feel badly. The work they were intended to do has been accomplished . . . or not. I’m not a skilled writer but one who records things seen and felt.
The purpose of writing this particular column is not about my work, my life, or my writings. It is to remind that each of us have stories to tell. They may or may not need sharing, but in their writing they will give a clarification to those who record them. I have been lucky to have had this venue, one that is not open to many writers but anyone can write a journal and I would encourage that activity.
Although I receive frequent positive comments on my columns, as well as some negative ones, they have a way of keeping my interests broadened. The act of journalling can do the same thing. Whether one is a columnist or an individual recording his/her own thoughts and reactions, a sharper focus is always a good thing. Who knows, maybe Stuart will pick you up as a columnist!