The Best Article I Never Wrote…Sigh…

Photo on 1-4-13 at 6.33 PM

Here I am hard(ly) at work at my kitchen/dining/library table.

I don’t want to write today, which is a problem since I get paid to write. In fact, I’ve been paid to write since I started my job in 2005. And while I’m happy that writing and editing is now 100% of my job (it also used to include pitching reporters), the change hasn’t done anything at all to lessen the fact that I’m still 100% terrified every time I have to write another article. I enjoy the interviews—mostly.* But when it comes to looking at the transcribed text, finding the story, and figuring out how to get it on the page, I do an immediate about-face from seasoned professional to champion procrastinator. Yes, yes, I do start every new article with “Shitty First Draft” as prescribed by the brilliant Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, but that doesn’t stop the text dancing before my eyes as if it’s all suddenly a foreign language. I’ll have a vague recollection that I understood the topic when I was asking questions, but at the moment I have to start to write, it’ll seem like a dream I only half-remember.

I think part of the issue is that my brain skews toward the instinctive rather than the analytical. I’ll find the story if I can meander my way toward it, but given the limited time in which I (and the other writer) have to turn around articles and given that we’re writing long-form amidst doing all the other writing and planning work for our social media platforms, meandering is not an option.

Did I mention that I’m a champion whiny procrastinator? By the way, if anyone leaves a comment suggesting I outline or do any of that stuff that people with linear brains do—I.Will.Cut.You.


While the blank page is terrifying even when it comes to my personal writing, there’s something exponentially frightening about writing fact-based pieces. For one thing, what if I misinterpret the facts? Or forget to include a crucial point? Or write the wrong story? Like the time I wrote a wonderful piece about Nikki Giovanni for NEA Arts and then had to rewrite it because I’d glossed over her journey from her early days as a writer to today… which was the point of the magazine….and was also my idea for the magazine theme.

And once I get a coherent story down on the page, what about the polish? It takes me weeks and months (and well, years if you include the short story I’m currently working on) to get to a place where I feel my prose sparkles. I’m fairly good with quickly getting my sparkle on with Twitter or a blog post—that poem training comes in handy—but I just don’t have the same facility when it comes to long-form writing. Which means that while I turn in good stories, I never feel like I turn in great stories, the kind where the style shines as much as the content.

Well, thanks for listening. Time to get back to my writing procrastinating. Sigh….

*I always have that brief moment of fear that the person I’m interviewing will think I’m hopelessly thick. Kindly, most everyone either, at some point, praises the quality of my questions or laughs at one of my quips.

Posted on January 4, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I enjoyed reading this, Paulette. I rush students through writing and sometimes forget what a s-l-o-w writer I am… until it’s my turn to write. It’s as you describe it — the way confidence jumps out of you, no matter how well you envisioned the topic beforehand, just as it hits time to write. I don’t have the same block with fiction, but run into it with nonfiction pieces — even when I can hear the article in my head — until I get the first bones down on the page… then it starts cruising. Good luck with it!

  2. I’ve long suspected the nefarious outline is responsible for everything that ails society today. I appreciate your confirming my hunch (though I might also curse you ever so lightly for the enviable ability to crank out a fast, sparkly blog post!).

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