I’m about to write my 800th newspaper column. Or I wrote it a few days ago. I don’t really keep track.
It just occurred to me. Just eyeballing my history, roughly estimating. Guessing, although with some solid numbers.
Sixteen years of this, or close enough. Averaging 51 times a year (not really accurate; most of my missed columns came during a short sabbatical), and let’s say 850 words per, brings us close to 700,000 words published, printed, maybe read. That’s not counting guest op-eds and other writing, but the weekly column is the bulk.
For some perspective, that’s the equivalent of about 10 middling-length novels. Or one 25,000-page one. This covers multiple newspapers, but all owned by the same parent company, and none of them rocking the country. Just small papers, appreciated and supported by communities who want to hear about city council meetings and high school sports, and sometimes me. Small fish, small pond.
Here’s why numbers are on my mind: That 700,000 figure has to be dwarfed by blogging.
I started a blog 14 years ago, just on a whim. I’d been reading blogs for a couple of years, proto-blogs really, back when the term was creeping into conversation but not in a clear way. Mostly it was where the kids played, on Diaryland or LiveJournal or, eventually, Blogger.
But a writer friend suggested that it might be useful, and it turned out I had a lot to say. So I blogged and kept blogging, often cross-pollinating the column and blog, working out ideas, capturing stray phrases. It was writing gym, and I can’t begin to count the words.
My first blog has disappeared from all but The Wayback Machine, and at some point I’d gone back and deleted a bunch of posts. Since 2007, I’ve been writing at my own site, sometimes surpassing that 850-word mark every day for weeks, sometimes letting the whole thing slide back into cobwebs. Twice as many words total? Three times? No idea. There might be a couple of million words there, sent out into the world as spontaneous bursts of consciousness, written fast and published immediately. A couple of million at least, I think.
There’s nothing prolific about this, or nothing worth remarking on. Lots of people write as many words over the same period of time and never think of themselves as writers. Just emailers, report assemblers, relentless tweeters and texters. Not much to see here, in other words.
Still, I’ve spent the past week, from time to time, rereading out of some necessity and mostly curiosity. I’m about to move my website from one host to another, and taking advantage of this to rework everything. Since my current site holds 10 years’ worth of writing, a lot of it daily, I’d prefer not to lose that stuff. Then again, it’s not like someone will go back and read a couple of thousand posts. I just wanted to preserve the moments somehow, and since there were some technical problems involved in backing up the entire installation and copying it over, I settled on just saving it.
In the process, though, I ended up rereading quite a bit. Quite a bit.
One of the most influential books in my young life was “The Actor’s Life” by Charlton Heston. I wasn’t a huge Heston fan by any means, although he was hard to avoid. This book, though, was a collection of his journal entries over a couple of decades, from the mid-1950s to the mid-70s. To a teenager interested in acting, it was a gold mine of anecdotal time capsules, with plenty of films and screen icons making appearances.
It was Heston’s realization, on rereading all these old entries, that has never left me, though. His epiphany was obvious but important: It didn’t happen the way you remember.
Spot-reading my way through blog posts and columns, I hear this loud and clear. I found myself surprised on several occasions, my words from the past correcting my recollections.
I guess I’d suggest this practice—journaling or blogging or really whatever preserves the moment—to anyone, although “better late than never” is an interesting concept to me, right now. Some things are just late, and their relative utility diminishes.
So, maybe I’ll just stick to me. I’m glad I did it, glad I have it, and not sure what use it might be to anyone else, but I definitely own it.
And over the next week, I’ll own a new site. If you’re a regular blog reader of mine, be aware that you might have to adjust your bookmarks (just head to chucksigars.com and you’ll find it). Also make sure your tray table is locked, and that your seats are in a fully upright position. Might be bumpy.