Day 5: Why I am not a journalist.

In one of my favorite scenes from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, news writer Murray Slaughter bets assistant producer Mary Richards that she can’t write a news story. Mary says she can.

Just then, a story comes in, something big, a scoop. It must be written up and rushed to anchorman Ted Baxter, who in just a matter of seconds will utter his sign-off:  “Good night, and good news.”

Murray, smiling, bows to Mary.

Mary rolls a sheet of paper into her typewriter. She types about half a sentence. Then she stops. She spaces down and starts another sentence. She stops. She spaces down and starts over again. She stops. She spaces down… Everyone in the newsroom is standing around her desk, watching…She spaces down…

Finally, at the last minute, Murray loads his typewriter, and, fingers flying, types the story, rips the paper from the machine, and hands it to producer Lou Grant, who runs for the anchor desk.

And that’s why I’m not a journalist. I’m not Murray. I’m Mary.

That, and because I knew that if I took a journalism course, I would have to talk to people: call them on the phone, request interviews, ask them questions. I had no intention of talking to people I didn’t know.

And then someone would expect me to write a lot and faster than I was capable of, or thought I was capable of.

I look back and wonder how I got to that point. Not the distaste for talking to people I didn’t know–I’ve always had that–but the difficulty with writing.

I grew up loving to write. By the time I was seven, I was writing long letters to great-aunts and aunts and cousins. Once when I was home from school, enjoying ill health, my mother let me use my father’s fountain pen.  Once I used a pencil with a point so dull I doubt the recipients could read the for smears on the pages.

The summer I was eight, I spent the month of June in Central Texas with an aunt and uncle while my mother stayed in Dallas with my grandmother, who was ill. My father, who remained in Del Rio working, visited one weekend and brought me a present: a ream of legal-sized paper.

On a scale of one to ten, most children would have rated a ream of paper at minus 3. I gave it a twelve. I wrote my own newspaper. Most articles covered weddings between various cats and dogs of my acquaintance. I had a talent for describing bridesmaids’ dresses worn by Blackie and Bootsie and Kitty and Pat Boone (my fox terrier). It was a devastating little parody of a small-town newspaper.

And then somewhere along the line, I did what my thesis adviser told me, twenty years later, not to do: I got tangled up in words. Writing was no longer fun. Confidentially, I think it had something to do with school and outlines.

It was years before someone said, “You can’t write an outline until you know what you’re going to say, and you can’t know what you’re going to say until you’ve written something.”

Write it and then fix it. And lighten up.

Sometimes I do lighten up. When I write the blog, I lighten up. I’m fluent. Words pour out. Unless I’m trying to be serious and sincere and profound. I cannot try to matter. I’m not a profound writer. I think profound, but I write shallow, and there’s nothing I can do about that.

And I would never put myself into the little journalism box. That’s pressure. And I still don’t want to talk to people I don’t know. I’d rather make up the facts myself.

I don’t like talking to reporters, either. I always tell them to be sure to make me sound intelligent. One young lady told me she didn’t have to fix anything because I talk in complete sentences. I told her that was an accident.

Now. It’s past my midnight deadline. I think I’ll still be okay for NaBloPoMo because it runs on Pacific Daylight Time (for another forty-eight hours).

But that is not, at this moment, of paramount concern. My dedication to adhering to rigid contest guidelines has lessened.

I’m lightening up.

13 thoughts on “Day 5: Why I am not a journalist.

  1. For a NotAJournalist, you’re sure pushing out the words , Kathy!

    I love this post. The Pet’s Wedding Daily Times touched my heart, even if its readers couldn’t read.

    And it has taken me years to realise- and this is going to sound rose tinted, sorry – every writer is unique. Some of us are Ferraris, all sound and fury: and some of us are Rolls Royces. The Rolls take a long time to make, with painstaking craftsmanship, but they are uniquely luxury, quality like no other car.

    I am loving this every day business, Kathy:-)


    1. You’re very kind, Kate. The secret to pushing out words is that nobody is making me do it. I’m just talk talk talking, sharing my many (and contradictory) opinions with the world (which I’m sure needs to hear them). I don’t think your view is rose tinted at all. I think it’s correct. We all have our own ways of working. I’m neither Ferrari nor Rolls–to quote Gerald Ford, “I’m a Ford, not a Lincoln”–but I darned sure generate a lot of sound and fury.

      By the way, my friend Maryellen and I were discussing your blog over lunch today, and we agreed we need to meet you. Since she can’t cross the Atlantic right now, we’ve decided you should come here.


        1. Concerning wonders of the world…well…that would be April, when the bluebonnets are out. I think that’s the only wonder we have around here.

          But Maryellen and I are quite serious about this. We’re trying to come up with a plan, and we have only begun to think.


  2. I really enjoyed this blog, as well as all your nice comments about mine. I laughed when I read your reasons for not being a journalist because they were the same reasons why I loved being a journalist. I truly enjoyed meeting and interviewing people who had stories to tell — and the adrenaline of writing on deadline. Sometimes such fast-paced writing is not your best, but sometimes it truly is.


    1. Thanks, Pat. It’s strange about the deadlines, because I’m always writing to one. The brain doesn’t really get going until I see the finish line, and that makes for messy results, no matter how early I begin the project. And I’d have loved meeting people–if someone else had done the groundwork. That’s not really much of a problem now, I’m happy to say. But I’m happier working with paper.

      The life of the journalist, however, looks very romantic–at least from a distance. And the roving reporter, covering the beat of her choice with Maggie as company–that sounds absolutely idyllic.


  3. I always preferred Mary’s style myself. From the time I first encountered outlines in school, they confounded me. I finally realized the only way I could do one was after the fact. I could outline what I’d already written but not the other way around. Kind of a problem when an outline was required before the finished paper…


    1. To quote E. M. Forster, “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” If only someone had read Forster before they taught us to write. Fortunately, I was never required to turn in the outline before the paper. A couple of professors required a conference to discuss my plans, but as soon as I explained what I intended to write about, I went out and wrote something entirely different. I suppose I used the conference to find out what wouldn’t work.


  4. Uuugghhh…outlines. I think shallow might just be a little more entertaining, but I’ll bet there’s often a little profound in the shallow. Also, thank-you, you just made me think of those Truman Capote short stories (Queeenie? & maybe a Christmas one?) that I believe you introduced me or my mom to – I’ve been meaning to reread them. Is November “write on your blog everyday” awareness month? Sarah Farris Porter has a goal of doing the same thing.


    1. You’re welcome, and thank you. Capote’s “A Christmas Memory?” There was a 30-minute TV show based on that story. I think Capote did the narration, and Geraldine Page played the cousin. I saw it when I was in my teens and fell in love with it. Just found a clip of “The Thanksgiving Visitor” on YouTube. You’ve sparked a couple of memories I’ll have to act on. I’m going on the prowl for DVDs.

      November is National Blog Posting Month. Where does Sarah blog? I’ll see whether I can locate her through google.

      What are you doing up at 4:40 a.m.?

      Tell your mother Hi for me. When will she be heading back down this way?


  5. I remember that episode of Mary Tyler Moore. This post had me laughing out loud recalling that scene and your connection to it!

    I find that “lighten up” applies to many situations in life. Good advice.


    1. I laugh at it now. The first time I saw it, it was almost painful to watch. I knew exactly how Mary felt, deleting phrase after phrase after phrase, trying to get it right. Except then we didn’t say deleting. It was erasing or x-ing out. My, how things have changed. Glad you subscribe to the lighten up principle, too.


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