Column writing requires deadline, panic and disaster

Burt's Eye View

Occasionally, someone asks me how I’ve managed to write a column every week for the last 25 years.

Usually, that person is an insomniac hoping to be bored to sleep.

“Panic,” I answer before he can drift off. “Panic and deadlines. And a good disaster.”

It’s the deadline thing that sparks the panic. Remember when you were 8 years old and the week before Christmas dragged on for six or seven months? Sometimes, it took a whole year for that long, long week to crawl past.

Not anymore. Now, when deadline’s involved, a week whizzes by in something like six hours. I’ve barely gasped out that sigh of relief after finishing one column before that pesky calendar taps me on the shoulder and growls, “Hey, writer boy, where’s your next column? We’ve got a deadline, you know.”

Deadline is the great motivator.

For natural procrastinators like me, it’s deadline that gets things done. Even if I have no clue what I’m going to write about that particular week — which is most every week — deadline forces my fingers to fly across the keyboard.

Afterward, I read my column to find out what I said. It catches me by surprise every time. Who knew? Certainly not me.

It’s better when I’ve got the topic nailed down ahead of time. That vastly improves my comfort and decreases my stress level. Which is where good disasters come in — humor columnists are the only people I know who dream of getting whapped by disaster.

When a normal person falls off a roof, his thoughts on the way down run along the lines of, “AAAAAARRRRRRRGHHHHHHHH!”

If a humor columnist slides off the roof, he’s thinking, “Awesome! I’m going to have something to write about this week! I just hope I break enough bones to make this really funny.”

Well-adjusted, normal people can’t write humor. You need to be the kind of person who trips over thistles, walks into barn doors or gets chased by herds of chipmunks in a snarky snit.

That’s my problem. You wouldn’t believe the week I’ve had — a good one. I’m fine. Peachy. Dandy.

Of all the rotten luck!

Well, there was that wasp thing. See, I was out mowing hay, er, I mean, the side yard when a couple of wasps and I disagreed over property rights.

I still say it’s my lawn. They asserted that as officially recognized wildlife, they get to claim outdoor holdings.

They puncturated — I mean, punctuated — their arguments with some pretty good points, and I skedaddled inside to give them due consideration. I spent the night dabbing ointments on their rationale and icing their logic.

Here’s the disaster: I left them the mower but in the morning I discovered that the wasps never finished the lawn. So now I’m going to have to do it myself. All around the wasps’ nest. In disputed territory.

It sounds like I’ll have a great column next week. Maybe. My dedication to the craft of humor writing seems to be slipping a tad.

If I decline the obvious, what will my column be about next week? Who knows. Not me. I’ll find out when the deadline and panic sets in. About three minutes from now.

— To find out more about the scary art of being a humor columnist — a proven sleep aid — find Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.

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