We write because we have to

Once upon a time I interviewed (by phone) Dave Barry, longtime Miami Herald columnist, because he was coming to speak at an event in the town where I worked for the local newspaper.

He was disparaging hand-wringing, ego-driven “writerly processes” … to the point where he finally burst out laughing because his assistant wrote and held up a note reminding him he was talking to me because he would be speaking at a writers’ conference.

He had a point, though. It even was reiterated in, all of places, a recent TBS “Men at Work” episode (apologies and thanks to the very cool Danny Masterson), and it is this: WRITERS WRITE.

You can’t just have the idea(s). You can’t just want to do it. You have to have the compulsion.

And so here I am tonight, reaching out to a national blogger, saying, hey, I used to do some unpaid stuff for you, want this column? ’cause it’s banging around my skull and has to be put down, and maybe it would fit your audience.

If she says no? OK, it’ll go here on my blog, to a (vastly) smaller audience.

The point is, it is getting written regardless. Because I have this idea I HAVE to get OUT OF MY HEAD.

That’s what being a writer is, at its core. We’re surgeons, in so many ways.

Bin there, done that


This is a problem. A first world problem, granted, but a problem.

All morning long, I have been working on keeping my focus on writing a story that was due. Early on, there were distractions, like food, which I’m ordinarily bad at eating on a regular schedule, and the cat’s litter box. I just as soon would have ignored that one, but I already was emptying the trash, which only happens once or twice a week, and I was concerned about what the state would be if I waited another round.

As long as I had a full trash bag that had cat litter packed into the side and was tearing, I might as well take it out to the bin rather than risk litter leaking onto my floor, I reasoned. As long as I was outside, I might as well roll the bin to the curb in air that was brisk, not bitter — what passes for nice in a Michigan January. As I walked back I thought about taking another two minutes to take the recycling bins to the curb and my brain started screaming at me about sitting down and writing the story, so I did.

(If you have to ask why, when the event I covered was Wednesday afternoon, I did not write the story on Wednesday night, you never have been a writer.)

I’m stumped, so I start about three paragraphs in. There is not only what happened Wednesday to talk about, but some important future plans as well, in a way that’s not clunky and forced. I keep chipping until I’m getting reasonably satisfied.

Phone goes off. Editor. My greeting is, “I’m working on it.” Ten minutes, I say. I think it ends up being 12.

Just as I finish, I see a city truck. No, I think, be the one for the trash. I watch to see if the mechanical arms come down for the next-door neighbor’s bin.

No! Someone hops off to grab their recycling. They will be past my house before I can grab even one bin and make it out the door, let alone both.

We’ve been recycling for a few years now, and I am completely sold. It only took a few months to realize how much of our trash was devoted to packaging. Unless we have deer remains or something, I sometimes don’t even roll the trash out weekly, because it takes three or four weeks to fill the bin.

But the recycling is another story. We are lucky not to have to sort, and can throw cardboard and plastic and paper and glass all together in one glorious party. That helps with the family cooperation.

The down side is that the bins fill quickly enough that skipping a week doesn’t work well. I now have one bin smashed and tamped full, and one empty — plus a third in reserve.

Next week: recycling before breakfast. Writing hours before deadline? Unlikely.