What I have learned writing 500 columns

What I have learned writing 500 columns
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Today is a milestone; this is my 500th post on Chicago Now. I was a member of the Republican Party when I published my first article on April 28, 2016, but I was not happy with my party’s apparent nominee, Donald Trump. My first article was, “Sorry GOP, with Trump as the nominee, we say bye-bye.”

It took me three hours to write the 532 words in the article. A whole sixty people read that article. I’m related to most of them. Writing articles for publication was part of my stock and trade in Washington. That work production always went out under a client’s name. That is part of the Washington charade: thoughtful policy tomes rarely are the visions of the authors. Composed by K Street Public Relations firms, they are designed to make the person writing the checks look good.

April 28, 2016, was the first time I saw something I composed published under my name. It was the start of a learning process about writing. If a person wants to be a writer, it is not easy, and it carries much responsibility along with the craft.

When you write something and publish it, you are on the hook. If you cannot defend what you write, then do not post. One of the readers was one of my mentors in Washington, and a significant figure in the GOP. His call was the lesson that when one publishes an opinion piece that is not just on the record, it is the record.

Write from your heart. Writing for a specific audience sounds contrived. There is a good reason for that. Often those kinds of pieces lack sincerity, and readers respond to sincere beliefs stated succinctly.  The readers may not agree with your words, but genuineness is compelling, and while you may not persuade them, you will earn their respect. Phony views leap off the page.

Keep learning about your craft. I used to mock the Journalism majors who worked for me. I would say to them, “Once you learned the words who, what, when, where, why, and how, what was left to learn about Journalism?” As it turns out, there is a great deal to learn. From grammar and spelling to supporting content with expert opinion, composing and defending positions is not an easy task.

Have no fears for stating sincerely held views. Are you defending the status quo and are content with the way things are now; perhaps a voice for social justice, or for a change from the present state of affairs? You have a voice and state your views with courage.

Critics are part of the deal. I have been threatened, lied about, called every name under the sun, and it is part of the backdrop of rocking boats. Discover your voice, and do not be timid about your views.

That first article was short, and not well read. After I finished it and published the work, I wondered what I could write about next? I learned that being prolific comes with discipline. Set aside a specific time during the day to write. For me, there is no such thing as writer’s block. That brief encounter after the first few articles disappeared once I started a daily writing routine. Sometimes I do not publish what I write, and that is OK. The important thing is to write every day.

That first poorly read article evolved into a regular column with a loyal following of readers. It takes time to build an audience. Be patient and be consistent. I had some successes along the way.

In 2017, my article “44 years a Republican, 1 year an independent, today I’m joining the Democratic Party,” was the most read article of that year on Chicago Now. It went viral and was picked up by large political blogs on both sides of the aisle. People are reading it to this day.

Last year, a terrible accident that wiped out a family happened in Illinois. None of the Chicago media could get the name of the person who caused the crash. The family was upset that the State’s Attorney was sitting on the guy’s name. The State’s Attorney has a reputation for being a media hound and loves big productions.

I found out the name and published the story. The State’s Attorney threw a fit, and his press representative called me to dress me down. I reminded the guy the public has a right to know, and sorry that I had ruined his big reveal, but the public has a right to know that is greater than the SA’s right to grandstand.

I have been on the radio in America on PBS, SIRIUS, and countless local stations. Radio networks from as far away as New Zealand and Germany have me on as a semi-regular commentator.

That was the last lesson I will discuss. Your words carry consequences, be prepared to embrace the fallout.

The twenty-five months I have been writing at Chicago Now has been the catalyst for much change in my life. Learning from my wonderful colleagues at CN has improved my writing significantly. CN has great writers, award-winning journalists, and published authors who are my colleagues and for who I am eternally grateful for the lessons they have shared with me.

I have written a book and turned that book into a screenplay. I am now writing my second book. It would not have happened was it not for Chicago Now, and my wonderful colleagues who help me along the way.

A big thank-you to my colleagues and you, my regular readers. I appreciate you more than you can imagine.

I shall be back pissing people off with my political views. Stay tuned.

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[Editor's note: there have been four follow on articles to this article.  You may find them and read them by clicking here.  They are listed as the newest first.}

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