When people find out I work for the newspaper, the first thing many of them say is “Hey, you’re the vanity plate guy” — which is true, I do write sometimes about vanity license plates. Then many people often ask me where I come up with ideas for my weekly column.
I will be the first to admit it isn’t easy to do, because all too often the idea well has gone dry.
I remember a time when I was more ambitious about it and I kept a running list of potential columns — but my dedication to maintaining such a list fell by the wayside at some point, possibly because the list was devoured by the mound of papers heaped on my desk.
So the way I chose to come up with columns is either through personal experiences, commentary on current events or suggested topics by readers.
Personal experiences make for the best columns. I love writing about my kids and I think readers also enjoy this more personal — sometimes humorous, other times serious — way of expression. It shows the human side of the writer, that we are people too and like everyone else we have our ups and downs, a sense of humor and it often can be a place where our human imperfections are shown.
Commentary on current events is sometimes the easiest way to write a column, because you are merely making your point and supporting it with the reasons you feel this way. This is great until the day the column reaches the homes of readers. I call this the Day of Reckoning. Within a few short hours after the paper is delivered, if I’ve expressed a viewpoint that’s going to generate controversy, I’m going to start hearing about it.
Sometimes I just want to take the phone off the hook or ignore my email box when I’ve written something political. It used to be you could express an opinion and while not everyone necessarily agreed, you could cordially agree to disagree. Not today — today there are many people who expect you to share their point of view or pack your bags and leave the country. I’ve been called names, been screamed at by callers on the phone and I’ve gotten taunting e-mails from readers who not only disagreed with my opinion, but believed my head on a pole would be a suitable penance for my outburst.
Then there are the suggestions made by readers. These are sometimes the best because often it goes straight to the heart of an issue troubling someone. I’ve had some pretty good column suggestions over the years, like a recent one someone gave me which had to do with questioning why it is young men (early 20s) often don’t want to work or see manual labor as being beneath them. Great idea, one I would like to explore in the near future.
When all else fails, I keep a running list of vanity license plates on sticky notes posted above my otherwise messy workspace, just in case.