Writing a blog or column on a regular basis takes a reservoir of topics

June 21, 2012

 By Mike Pigott

As a young reporter for the Nashville Banner years ago, I used to envy the paper’s columnists who were allowed to pontificate several times a week on any topic that struck their fancy. I later was given my own column, and I learned firsthand the meaning of the phrase, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Founding Partner and Senior Counsel Mike Pigott has been with McNeely Pigott & Fox for more than 20 years after having been an award-winning investigative reporter and political editor for Nashville’s former afternoon newspaper, the Nashville Banner, for 12 years.

There were plenty of days when writer’s block set in and I felt like a passenger on a long awkward elevator ride where the most clever phrase I could muster for fellow passengers was, “How about this weather?” Writing a column can be like that. Or it can feel great, if you happen to be clicking that day.

In my journalism days, you needed a platform like a newspaper, radio program or television public affairs show to get your message before the public. Today, anyone can have a regular blog or write a column as many times a week as you like – provided you have something to say. Sometimes even a tweet can prove challenging.

Veteran journalist and columnist Gail Kerr of The Tennessean has informed us and entertained us for a dozen years through her columns. I asked my friend for her advice for people who are considering doing their own regular column or blog.

“I think the most important thing is to be aware of purpose when writing a column or blog,” Gail said. “What is it about? I have an imaginary sign over my desk that says ‘I love Nashville.’ That’s what my column is about – anything or anyone who hurts my city, or celebrates my city, is fair game.

“(Fellow Tennessean columnist) Mary Hance is about saving money. (Sports columnist) David Climer is behind the scenes of popular sports, and so forth,” she said. “So I look for anything that honors that purpose. I read all the local publications, talk to friends, listen to what people are talking about. I get to say the things people are thinking.

“On the second question, Climer told me when I first started the column in 2000 that everyone on earth has five or six good columns in them,” she recalled “Everyone. If you’re good, you’ve got 15. After that, it gets harder. A column or blog is WORK.

“Sure, it’s grand when the muse moves and one comes to you in the middle of the night and all but writes itself. That happens. But it doesn’t happen often, be it a blog or a hit song. Writing is a skill and a craft, and you’ve got to practice it to make it work. If someone isn’t prepared to do that, they should quit. And 75 percent of it is finding that good idea. That takes work and practice too, and is not for the faint of heart.”

Bill Hudgins, a professional writer and blogger with the media and marketing company Hammock, Inc., is faced daily with the challenge of saying something brilliant even when the material is not particularly compelling.

“I write a monthly column for a trucking magazine, and it’s often hard to think of something relevant or amusing or that can be made amusing or relevant,” said Hudgins, another former Nashville Banner  reporter. “My editor suggests things to me sometimes, which helps. Also I have to generate a lot of article ideas for our products. I have less problem with Facebook, obviously, because I feel free to go all over the lot and it’s much shorter stuff.

“I notice some blog posts are fairly long, but they don’t all have to be, so say what you want to say and be done,” he suggested. “Sometimes there are themes, like typos and proofreading errors and that kind of thing that I can come back to. I try to keep a running log of ideas for things.”

My advice for future bloggers is to take a few hours to brainstorm potential topics. Maybe you have the six that David Climer contends everyone has in them. But how many more are out there?

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