A few weeks ago, I appeared on a local television program to promote this column. During the 3-minute interview, the host was surprised to learn that Deer In Headlines II is — and has always been — exactly 700 words in length.
Unfortunately, limited time prevented a deeper dive into such a precise word count. But the conversation made me realize, though you may be a regular reader, you may not know much about how all this works. So, here’s a look at how it all comes together.
First, riddle me this. What’s the difference between a writer and a pizza delivery person? The answer – a pizza delivery person can feed a family of four. Yes, I know, terrible joke, but not entirely inaccurate.
I’ve heard it said that writing for a living is like having homework every day for the rest of your life. That wasn’t far off either. Writers are romanticized in movies and TV. We’ve all seen images of the Hemmingway wannabes, huddled over an old IBM Selectric (go look it up), pecking out the next great American novel. It’s all so dramatic — and all such nonsense. I’m sure some see themselves that way, we scribes can be a self-absorbed lot for sure. But that is certainly not me.
I’m not a novelist, though I have a couple of manuscripts in a drawer somewhere. My work is focused on non-fiction, freelance journalism, copywriting, and public relations. Sometimes I do get to work in my fuzzy slippers, but most days I go to an office and sit at a desk. I also traded in my manual typewriter for a MacBook Pro – much easier to fit in a messenger bag.
I am the founder and creative director of a public relations and media production firm and, although I might own the place, I’m not my own boss. That’s a load of nonsense. I have a dozen bosses, and they all pay my salary – they’re called clients. When I’m asked, “Are you a professional writer,” the answer is a resounding yes, though it didn’t start that way.
In college, I was an engineering and computer science student but worked for my college newspaper as a staff writer, eventually earning the senior editor position. I even stayed on after graduation to handle the summer editions. My coursework always included English composition, communication, and classical author studies like Charles Dickens and D.H. Lawrence.
When I started the original Deer In Headlines, some 15 years ago, my inspiration came from the news. Today, that inspiration comes from people, their struggles, achievements, interests, convictions, and feelings. Most of the time it all starts with a tiny glimmer of an idea; that word, or phrase that just won’t leave me alone. As it becomes something more substantial, I write down what your grade-school English teacher might have called, “the main idea.” Oddly enough, that often becomes the headline.
Then I sit down with my laptop, or sometimes just paper and pencil (not a pen), and see where the idea takes us. I say “us” because you, my audience, are there with me – following the words as they paint a picture of my thoughts and feelings about a subject that I hope will give you food for thought, inspiration, hope, or whatever might help you at that moment.
I will never use an AI (artificial intelligence) writing program. Because, if my work is to have meaning, there must be a human mind and heart behind the keyboard. When you read this, what you get is all me, like it or not.
Before I close, I don’t want to leave you without answering the original question. Why 700 words, you ask? I wish I could give you some deep, philosophical, or even technical answer. Within the first year, the original DIH series just worked out and it became a clear goal each week.
It also fits nicely in the print layout, and you can easily read it in just over 2 minutes, then get on with your life. But I hope you take away something useful out of these 700 words every week and please know that I thoroughly appreciate your time and attention.
Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.