I went to a do the other evening, full of young people – they are funny, aren’t they?; they have skin that is all smooth! – and they were mainly journalism students, and what they most wanted to know, after “How do I get my own column?” was: “How do I get my own column, really?” and although I can’t tell anyone how to get their own column (it always comes down to who you are prepared to sleep with) I do feel I have something to say about how to write a column. So here, I present: How To Write A Column:
- Do your research or, failing that, don’t, and wing it. You’d be amazed how much time this saves. (A whole morning, at least).
- Although it’s generally said you must locate your own voice, I have never found this necessary. Last week, for example, I stole John Rentoul’s voice when he popped out the office for coffee. (His own fault; should have taken it with him; careless). One day, I would like to steal Howard Jacobson’s voice but, alas, he keeps it in a cupboard, under lock and key, plus has a Doberman called Killer. (And, to look at him, you’d think butter wouldn’t melt!)
- When faced with a blank page, no subject and a deadline heading towards you like an oncoming train, panic, then call in sick.
- If your ignorance precludes you from writing about Syria or Afghanistan, you can always take another pop at Pippa Middleton, the great netball memoirist, or be the first to put a question out there. For example: “If Martin Luther King were alive today, would he be doing his fair share of the housework?”
- You’ll need to accept some of the readership will not recognise your column as the best thing in the newspaper, even though it plainly is, and also that you will receive comments along the lines of: “I hope you die.” In such instances, ignore, or perhaps offer the following as a reply: “May I take this opportunity to heartily apologise for my good genes, and also the fact that the fickle finger of fate has yet to have me run over by a bus...”
- Young, smooth people – so smooth!; like Babybels! – will want your job and will imagine anyone can do it (they can’t: it’s like brain surgery laced with rocket science) but I wish them well, feel no resentment, and at least they now know they can write about whether Martin Luther King might have vacuumed, and to call in sick when the mind goes blank. Indeed, editors, as a rule, are very understanding about this. Sometimes, they will even rush round, with flowers.