Writing a religion column…

I write the Sunday religion column for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette in Champaign, IL.  I am nearing the 600 mark.  When I first started writing the column years ago, I remember going to my wife after I had written my third column and saying, “I have told them everything I know.  I have nothing else to write.”

“Well, that could be,” my wise wife said.  “Why not try one more before you give it up.”  I did column number four and then number five and, well now I am at almost 600.  But I’ve written them all just one column at a time.  I’m like the little engine that could.  I just keep a chugging.

Here is how it works:

* The Sunday column is due on Wednesday afternoon.  That means you have to write it before Thursday.  🙂 

* I do not make a list of ideas of columns for things I want to write about, other than always having a few ideas rolling around in my head.  Some columnists do.  I mostly read widely and am always looking for ideas.

* That said, I almost never plan my columns ahead of time.  That is, “After this column, I will write about that.”  I can’t do that.  But my Sunday evening or Monday a little clock goes off in my head, telling me I had better come up with an idea, if I don’t already have one.  It’s a rather spontaneous way of doing it, but I can’t do it any other way.

* My columns normally are about 950 words, which is probably a little long.  I always feel as if I have to tell you everything I know about this or that.  No true.

* While I have written hundreds of columns, I only write about three or four themes:  a) life is not fair, b) life is a journey, c) don’t be surprised if you find out the person you least expect may be a “better” Christian than you.  … With those themes I turn the prism over and over, always finding new angles, new ways to see this or that subject. 

* I also review books that I have read sometimes and sometimes I tell stories of how I began to discover faith as a young boy growing up in Northwestern Kansas.  “When I was a kid in Kansas we went to church 3 times a week.  Let me tell you … .”

* Normally is takes me 2 to 3 hours to write a column.  That, and 34 years in the ministry!

* I rarely take people on.  “I tell you.  Pastor Smith is crazy.  Just nuts.”  The time or two that I’ve done it … it has back fired.  I’m much better as a columnist when I say, “Here’s something I want you think about.”

* I do all the work myself.  Even though I am married to a university editing professor, I do not ask my wife to edit my work ahead of time.  This is my hobby, not hers.

* The editors at the paper have been great to work with.  They very rarely make any changes to my column and when they do, they usually make it clearer.  If something is not clear to them, they usually email me and ask me what I mean.  We’ve had a good relationship. 

* I get feedback.  Very regularly someone will respond to the email address at the bottom of my column or, better yet, stop me in a store and tell me they liked this or that column.  There was the guy who told me he takes my Sunday column and puts it in the bottom of his bird cage every Sunday night.  Well, there you go.  He bought the paper, and I guess it’s his to do with as he pleases!

* With a Sunday circulation of nearly 50,000 I realize that I have a rather sizable pulpit.

* Writing a column is probably not a good hobby for a perfectionist.  I rarely get my columns “just right.”

* Nor is writing a column a matter of getting inspired.  One guy said to me :”You must get lots and lots of inspiration to write your column.”  Nope.  Hardly ever.  Every now and then, yes.  But mostly that little internal clock goes off and says, “Time to do another column buddy.  Get to work.”

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