There are some weeks when writing a column is hard (OK, most weeks). There’s never a lack of things to write about, but making those topics interesting is the tough part.
WTO and international trade? After a while you just want to stuff it into a green box somewhere. (Or should that be an amber box?)
And who really wants to read farm bill update XXIV, anyway?
I’ve been known to go home and shove a legal pad at my husband. “Here. Write my column this week.”
It worked once. And wouldn’t you know, I got more positive comments on that column than anything else I’d written that year (did I mention I put my name on it?).
My crack research team (Oh, wait! That would be me!) has manilla folder upon manilla folder overflowing with column fodder. Some are neatly labeled, like “Rural-Urban Interface” and “25x’25″; other labels make sense only to the maker, like “Food Frenzy” or, my personal favorite, “Ethanol Brouhaha” (it’s a thick one!).
When I reached to the back of one of my file drawers today, I discovered a folder labeled “Brand New Column Ideas.” With a red exclamation mark on the label. Trouble is, I haven’t looked at that folder for at least five years.
The depths of these folders yield oddities I keep for some unknown reason: News release dated Jan. 17, 2001: Popular uses for WD-40 (keep snow from sticking to windows, snowshovels and windshields, and to remove gum from hair); Wall Street Journal clipping dated Oct. 2, 1998: A stash of aged cheddar cheese, a gold-medal winner, was stolen from a cheesemaker’s farm in North Cadbury, England.
Don’t ask me why I thought either would make a great column. Seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve round-filed them now.
There is a University of Illinois news release from September 2000 with this headline: “Farmers tend to work long past typical retirement age.” Now there’s a shocker. Probably why it’s never made it out of the idea file.
And there’s a random quote from ag economist Luther Tweeten I scribbled on a scrap piece of paper: “Antagonists detract from following a coherent, rational policy to simultaneously raise productivity and protect the environment.”
(My favorite Tweeten quote, however, is emblazoned in my brain, not in any folder. I will never forget him looking straight at an Ohio farmer – who might have been whining just a little – and telling him to “sell the farm and get a life.”)
Last year, I judged several classes in the National Newspaper Association’s annual writing contest, including obituaries, agricultural news (no, I didn’t judge the classes we entered) and humorous columns.
One entry in the humor class was nothing more than a treatise about what was in the writer’s middle desk drawer. Thirty inches worth of what was in the writer’s desk. Lots of paper clips, little humor.
“What was she thinking?” I groaned as I read portions aloud to co-workers. “Surely you could find something more interesting to write about! Who really cares what’s in her desk?”
Then, today, after pounding my head against my laptop and walking around the building for the 41st time, I actually reached over and opened my drawer.
Let’s see. I have a little envelope of wooden nickels, a Lean Cuisine coupon that expired in 2004 …
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell welcomes more column fodder from readers. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)