Write on Schedule

I never know what I’ll write until the typing starts. Often a vague topic floats through my head, a hazy arrow pointing the way, just a theme, but with no clear idea where I’m going. Other times, I form a strong opening sentence, that’s all, just a sentence—no subject, no area of focus. This always happens away from my computer—lying in bed or out for run—I make mental note, excited to write, happy for a launching pad. My brain is littered with scraps of these sentences. Immediately lost, I strain my mind trying to resurrect them. On occasion, I do, a writer’s prompt with a guaranteed catchy start.

What I don’t do is plan. I don’t outline, make notes, block out paragraphs. I don’t pick topics and develop arguments. I just write. I wind up where I will.

Today I received an email. Hey Jeff, Anna is out this week, we’re adjusting the column schedule. Yours is now due next week. At my work, a public library, we write columns for the local papers. It’s great free advertising, we keep the library front and center in people’s thoughts. We provide free content for the papers, no need to pay a reporter or purchase something from Associated Press. Symbiotic. Win, win.

My assignment is to describe my job. I wrote a column this week too, promoting a streaming media program offered by the library. Different topic, different paper. I’m sure no one views this as a big deal “Jeff loves to write, he won’t mind.” It’s true, I love to write. But I find it tricky to write on a specific topic, often dry. Without the ability to roam, I choke.

In the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch and Sundance try to get jobs as security guards. The hiring boss wants to know if Sundance, a gunslinger, can shoot. He tosses a chunk of wood twenty feet away. “Hit that.” Sundance spins his gun and holsters it, preparing for a quick draw. “No, no, not that, I just want to know if you can shoot.” Sundance squares his stance, carefully aims and fires. He misses the wood by eighteen inches. The boss spits tobacco on the ground, turns and starts walking away.

Sundance says “Can I move?” The boss turns around, “Huh?” Sundance draws his gun and crouches in a smooth motion, he fires twice. The first shot kicks the wood into the air, the second shot splits it in half. “I’m better when I move.” Watch it HERE.

Like Sundance, I struggle with constraints. When told what to write, sans sarcasm and irreverence, I come off flat. Coworkers talking (in my mind): “Hey did you read what Jeff wrote today for the paper?”

“Yeah, I thought he was supposed to be a writer.”

Because it’s my job, because I love the library, because it affects my image as a writer, I’ll give it my best. I’ll shoot for playful and upbeat, weave in personal stories and try to create an engaging article people enjoy. But in truth, I’d much rather spend a couple of hours writing here without direction for you.

37 thoughts on “Write on Schedule

  1. I have a title and a tiny description to my new article; i just to type… only two phrases and i get lost. My memory no react. I just let it go. (dissapointed) i turn on Amazon Prime and nothing interesting, few minutes after i start to play 8 Ball Pool. Two hours after… my mobile alerts: “Jeff Cann posted a new article” and here i am.
    So, i understand you. It’s very difficult to write something that you “will like to” read again two years later and don’t laugh.
    Cheers mr. Jeff

    Liked by 2 people

    • Keep plugging at it Georgio. We all get writer’s block. Sometimes when I look back a few years on what I wrote, I’m surprised by the topic. I always write what’s in the front of my mind, which changes frequently. Sometimes I wonder ‘why did I write that?’

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Another blogger I follow wrote about writing prompts and how she doesn’t like being told what to write. I’m the same way. I never know what I’m going to write until it’s written. I may have an *idea*, but I’m always going off on tangents😂

    You could use this post and change a few things, and it would be a good article. It’s the local paper, right? I know you have standards, but it’s not the The New York Times😉😂

    On a different topic, I haven’t gotten a reply to my email. I’m more than a little concerned☹ Hopefully everyone is okay🤞

    Liked by 3 people

    • Clearly, with my SLS experience, I can’t stick with a prompt even when I try. The tangents are my favorite part of reading essays–which is why I love David Sedaris so much. I don’t think this one would work as promotion for the library, but I’ve successfully published one essay that is on my blog. I asked people what book drew them into reading. I actually got emails from people answering my question. I’m going to email her too.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Hey! I have been MIA for a bit. We got hit with the bug and then with the kid’s birthdays and holidays – it has been a mess. And then Gmail shut me down. I guess Declan took too much control of my account and they wanted me to input a credit card or my driver’s license to prove I was an adult. I didn’t want to do that so I have a new Gmail – 3934robyn@gmail.com. I wanted to comment on your last post but I couldn’t. But anyway, the fall kind of sucked and hit an all-time low around the holidays. Bouncing back now! I hope Ben got his negative test and is back to school!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I always enjoy your posts Jeff, you have an engaging interesting way of writing. Some people have it, others most definitely do not. I don’t prep posts either, I usually have an idea float into my head and then it builds itself out there on the horizon like a storm bank. When I’m ready it flows. I would be dreadful out to topic. I can’t think of anything worse – like a rabbit isn’t the headlights – ouch!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your writing takes the reader on a journey and simultaneously weaves in a narrative about the experience. I find it thought provoking and always learn something. You share your insights in a rather humble way, that quality keeps me coming back eager for your next story. Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

  5. An interesting theme. I’ve often chafed under the self-imposed discipline of a weekly Vinyl Connection post. Certainly some posts are less inspired (and entertaining) than others. But there is something about the routine, the expectation of a product (no matter how light) that helps me. Compare this with Lonely Keyboards, my other blog, that lies neglected while it waits for increasingly infrequent inspiration.

    Or the paying gig I’m fortunate to have. That’s weekly too, and I enjoy that deadline. But I notice less freedom of expression in the commercial album reviews, less space to extol or carp or rave or swear. I guess it’s all a tradeoff, a compromise.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I haven’t written anything in forever. I have pretty much laid Autism in Our Nest to rest. I made sure I would not be billed again for anything related to it and have taken hours saving all the content. I’m not sure what my next path is but I will let you know if I decide to pursue something. But I don’t think I would do well writing something just because someone told me to even when I was a well-oiled writing machine. I need to be inspired too. I just finished a David Sedaris and loved it. He said he carries index cards around with him to jot down notes, experiences, or ideas as he goes through his day. I found that idea intriguing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • As you know, I think you’ve got an amazing and important blog in you that will completely reignite your passion for writing. I wish I could be disciplined enough to make notes of stuff that goes on in my life. I rely on my memory which isn’t great for short term topics. I worry about the impression I will leave if I pull out a notebook and start jotting notes right after someone says or does something.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So true. I remember trying to get a gig at my university paper. They gave me an assignment and it was the hardest piece to write. Quite possibly the worst writing I’ve ever done too. But give me a quiet evening, and I’ve never been so prolific.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The funny thing is, these columns that all the nonprofit execs in town have to write is exactly what got me seriously interested in writing. After publishing a few, I started writing op eds for the paper, and then I started my blog. 8 years later…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow I must be the opposite of everyone here lol. I do so much better when I have a topic or guidelines to stick to, even in personal blogging. When I write or journal without constraint I tend to go off on a tangent and lose my point, and I also focus on negative emotions, which is not really helpful for me personally.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I truly lack that level of discipline. People often suggest I write a novel, but I don’t think it’s possible to just start writing and finish up with a coherent story 100,000 words later. It takes planning, and I just can’t do that.


  9. When I restarted my blog in 2019 I read a bunch of Medium posts on blogging successfully since it had been a while and the landscape had changed. So many of them said to get a calendar and plan out your posts. “Huh?” I thought to myself — maybe that works if you are trying to actually sell something, create a brand or whatever the jargon is — but it felt like the exact opposite of the reason I wanted to blog again, which was to let life lead me to something that I wanted to say and that maybe someone else might want to read. I’m a ruminator, a polisher, a kaleidoscope lover not a “content creator.” I start with a feeling, usually, not necessarily an idea, and see where it takes me. Or I react to something I’ve seen, read, heard, done. I hate prompts!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Like you, what seems like a great topic or opening sentence will hit me at random times, often while running (all that extra oxygen in the blood pumping through our brains), only to be forgotten by the time I get home. I tried using my phone to leave myself a voice recording – breathing heavily, mid-run – but found those quick words didn’t re-spark the full feeling of the idea or sentence because there are emotions felt when the idea/sentence first appears.

    Now, my “trick” is to repeat the idea or sentence to myself several times, the same trick I use to remember the names of people I meet. The chance I’ll remember the idea is better.

    And, like you, I’m not into prompts, because that assumes I’m sitting at my computer, ready to write. I approach writing from the opposite side of the arena: the idea hits first, then I make it to the keyboard and write. Which is why I don’t schedule time to write, or follow the typical advice to write at least 500 words a day. I’m undisciplined, but somehow still productive.

    I’m sure your column will be a hit. Your style is warm and welcoming, like hobnobbing with one’s best friend at a cozy cafe, solving all the world’s problems with sarcastic humor.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Most of the bloggers who commented are pretty much seat-of-the-pants writers. There may be something to that stat. When I read a blog post, I’m not looking for organization, I’m looking for an organic and well written post – the subject matter is mostly secondary to me (except fashion blogs, can’t read those). That’s a very nice thing you wrote in your last paragraph. Thank you.


  11. Pingback: electroencephalographically challenged | rfljenksy – Practicing Simplicity

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