Thursday, August 19, 2010

Work, Part I: Paid

  Last week was busy, busy.
  I had an 1,800-word magazine story due on the business of fashion. I spent the better part of a week logging nearly full-time hours on interviews of academics and fashion industry insiders. Then another two full days to write and rewrite.
  It almost felt like work, work. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing, even for a LOL who has grown accustomed to a relaxed pace of freelancing. I was doing what I like doing best -- writing. And this time, I was getting a decent wage, which made it worth the effort but also added to the pressure. By the end of the week, the tension had built. Down time was next to nil. I had to skip exercise classes, and clean clothes were sparse.  Back came the perils of journalism -- writer's block when faced with thinking of a lead, self-doubt over whether my editor would like the story and anxiety about meeting deadline. Why, I wondered, had I taken on the assignment?
  I think it's all part of the process. It wouldn't be the same rush if not for all the worries along the way. Those restless nights inevitably deliver a good start by morning, and somehow, deadline gets met (almost) always. Self-doubt is a little harder to overcome. But that, too, is usually vanquished.
  But the biggest payoff is more intangible. It comes with the filing of the story. It's a high, simple as that. As deadline approaches, the adrenaline pumps at full throttle, and I know I'm close to the finish line with a solid product. I imagine it is the same pleasure that a craftsman must get from a finely turned cabinet or a mechanic from a rebuilt engine. A job is done and done well, and now what's left is only the anticipation of seeing the story in print and hearing from readers.
I'm an editor, mid-80s. Gotta love those glasses!
  The feelings haven't changed much since the Fall of 1980, when I got my first assignment from the  Kentucky Kernel at the University of Kentucky. I was incredibly shy -- still am, in lots of ways. The thought of picking up the phone and dialing (this was the days of rotary phones) a complete stranger, and a professor at that, was nearly paralyzing.  I still remember the topic:  It was a feature on a restaurant run by home-ec students. With lots of urging from my mother, I made that first call to set up an interview, after picking up and putting down the handset a dozen times. In the end, I was more scared of disappointing Mom than flubbing my call. In the face-to-face interview, I stammered through a series of questions from a prepared list. The professor was kind and patient. Then I stayed up all-night banging out copy on a blue, electric typewriter. When I handed in the pages, I was queasy but also thrilled, as if I'd just climbed off a roller-coaster and survived. A couple of days later, the story ran on the front page of the Kernel, pretty much the way I had written it. The fee was around $5. That day, I asked for another assignment.
  It was the beginning of my love affair with journalism.


Kathy said...

Hi Lini, Very nicely said. I remember my first story for the Main Line Times, a Tredyffrin Township planning meeting. I had no clue what a 100-year storm was, or anything else, for that matter. A very nice reporter from the Inquirer explained it all for me. I ended up working with him a few years later at Main Line Neighbors.


Lady of Leisure said...

I wonder if all journalists remember that first story? Who was the helpful scribe?