Saturday, June 27, 2009

Column Writing: The Toothbrush School vs. the Nymphomaniac School

I recently applied to write for the Indiana History Examiner. is a sort of online newspaper covering numerous cities throughout the United States. My fellow blogger Kellie Davis writes for the Anchorage Examiner, so I became interested in writing a local history column for the Indianapolis version. After applying, I got a response saying that Examiners are expected to write four to six articles of 200 to 400 words every week. That reminded me of Donald Kaul, onetime columnist for the Des Moines Register, who used to say there were two schools of daily column writing: the toothbrush school and the nymphomaniac school.

The toothbrush school was championed by Sydney J. Harris, who wrote a daily column for the Chicago Daily News and later the Sun-Times, from 1944 to his death in 1986. He compared writing a column to brushing his teeth in the morning. For him, it was a matter of routine.

Kaul then went on to quote another Daily News (later Sun-Times and the Tribune) columnist, Mike Royko, who quipped, "It's like being married to a nymphomaniac." (George Grizzard and Nora Ephron said the same thing--I'm not sure who said it first.) Like Kaul, I'll side with Royko, though not from personal experience.

So I gave a tentative assent to the Examiner offer, but only if I weren't subjected to the four-column minimum. That was a week ago and I haven't heard from the Examiner since. Perhaps the wedding is off.


Charles Gramlich said...

four columns a week is pretty heavy it seems to me. I'd not be able to manage that unless it was a full time gig.

steve on the slow train said...

Charles--That's exactly what I thought. And Royko, Grizzard, et. al., complained when it was a full time gig.

Lisa said...

I suppose it would depend on how many column ideas you have. The word count isn't too bad and once you get into the habit of doing them, it probably would be fairly easy. Having said that, I wouldn't be up to that kind of commitment myself.

twoblueday said...

Why do people insist on making lame analogies about things?

Peter said...

Would you be permitted to use any of the great, historical material on this blog?

steve on the slow train said...

Lisa--I'm still thinking about it. With the dead time at work after the last train gets in, I'm finally back to "Things Done and Left Undone." The next chapter, "The Whole World is Watching," is in progress.

Gerry--To try to connect with people, just like the infamous football field comparison.

Peter--One advantage of is that you own the rights. So yes, I could use that source.

Anonymous said...

Beware of the entire "rights" issue. I write for examiner and after a communication where I questioned leaving, I received this from my manager:

"When you agreed to work for Examiner, you gave us rights to your content. Yes, you still hold rights as well to use your content anywhere else you see fit, but we also maintain rights to continue to publish your material on our site even after you resign."

Which means they can attempt to make money off it when, or more likely if, I resign.