Friday, October 15, 2010

The Tired Sounds Of...

When I write, I write a lot. This is also true of when I talk or eat, but it's especially pronounced when it comes to This Writing Shit. I'm a really fast typist, and if I'm going to be honest also pretty well enamored by the sound of my own voice, and so writing 1,000 words to me doesn't always feel like a big deal. (Doing the Daily Fix -- which used to be an inexplicable 1300 words, and is still over a thousand most days -- on the regular has also conditioned me to think of 1,000 words as an hour-and-change/no-big-deal deal)

Obviously this isn't always the case -- when I'm trying to write in my inside/professional voice, for instance, it's obviously more difficult. But I don't need to tell you that this, say, is different from this. All you have to do is read them to see as much. The former's a third as long as the latter, but took several more drafts and several more hours to do. Some of that is the nature of working with newspaper editors -- good ones, in this case, but still people who most definitely will redline a draft and send it back to you -- but a lot of it is just me working the way I work. When it's happening for me, it happens in these big loud tumults of words and long, parenthetical-rich sentences -- for instance, there'd be a parenthetical here, were I making this sentence an example -- and things of that nature. You get some alliteration and some jokes and whatever, but it's basically an exploded drawing of my brain, hopefully with some connection to whatever the topic in question is. The struggle is to give it some shape, or to edit out the more egregious jokes or -- and I have some work to do on this part, I know -- limiting the parentheticals and finding some focus.

And maybe that's all that went on this week with my two pieces for The Awl, and I'm reading too much into it. So, as per usual, I did two football-related pieces for The Awl this week. The first one was this chat with Jeff Johnson which, once again, was fun as hell and -- because making jokes about Brett Favre's fantastically wise cock-shot gambit comes almost as easily to me as does writing long parentheticals -- about as easy as could be. It came out pretty funny, got a nice response, and I hope you'll read it. It's also almost 2,000 words and took about an hour or so to do. As long as NFL people keep doing silly/objectionable/easily-riffed-upon things, we could continue doing these every week, and it'll never be difficult or less fun. That's not the problem.

The problem was the weekly Kicked Off column, which -- and this is the doesn't-usually-happen part -- wound up being an intense struggle for me. Part of the problem was that I didn't totally know what I was going to be writing about. I was going to write about Favre and his photogenic peen, before realizing that it had actually apparently been covered fairly well in the sports press. Then I was going to write about embattled 49ers head coach, crucifix aficionado and objectively crazy human Mike Singletary, and coaches in general. And then, finally, I settled on the eventual topic -- Ben Roethlisberger and the dual, duelling uglinesses of his personal behavior and the NFL's institutional arbitrariness.

It wasn't that easy, though. For most of Thursday, I sat in front of my computer (yes, I do write on a computer, ladies) with nothing happening at all. I wrote a paragraph and tweaked it, then deleted it. I wrote some jokes about what Andy Reid's office must smell like, which is obviously kind of evergreen (the writing, not the smell of the office -- I'm getting a pretty strong "old fried" vibe, there). But the engine wasn't really turning over. I don't know what the cause of this was, and still kind of don't -- I think there was probably some anxiety about writing something too serious and not having people enjoy it as much as my cavalcade of dick jokes, and definitely some anxiety over wanting to have each Awl NFL column be the best thing written about football in that, or any, week. Which sounds okay, I guess, in a hard-driving perfectionist sense (and another way in which I'm like Tom Coughlin, I suppose), but which is also a pretty goofy way to address an unpaid online column I'm doing for yuks, even if I hope that the column could become a book or something someday. So I'm doubly proud of the mini-essay that resulted, both because I think it's pretty good in its own right and because it was something I did under duress late at night on Thursday and then in double-time on Friday. Mostly, though, I'm happy that it got done.

Which, you know, probably isn't the highest standard, necessarily. But while I've stressed over stuff like this before, this was the first time I'd really been in doubt about whether something was going to get done in time in a long while. With a lot of what I write for money, I simply don't worry about it enough to experience this sort of anxiety. I'm not tearing the Daily Fix out of my soul, and the Four Lessons things I'm writing for the WSJ's Metropolis section (and am supposed to be writing right now) aren't things I agonize over. (Although I did work hard on my Dan Dierdorf imitation in this one) The Awl columns mean a bit more to me, which makes a perverse type of sense given that I'm doing them for free. The relative editorial latitude, the ability to pick my subjects and write in my own voice and with the words I like best -- that should make it more fun. Ditto the reliable ego-feedback of a couple of weekly bylines and a generally kind response from the Awl's commenters (the rare internet commenters whose opinion I actually value). As usual with me, though, I tend to forget that having fun is even an option -- writing's my favorite thing, more or less, but because it's also my work, I kind of fall back on my default mood, which is self-lacerating anxiety/scotch-wanting. File that under the Mental Beatdown of Freelancing, I guess. Anyway, the good news: I still enjoy this stuff. The unsurprising news: I need to remind myself of that, sometimes.

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