I went into the relationship hopeful that he would give me some piece of advice that would put me on my own path to a Pulitzer Prize.
That didn’t happen, obviously, but I was given some insight into a dark side of journalism that I wasn’t aware existed until that time.
In the months leading up to our mentorship, the editorial staff of the News had reversed the paper’s long-standing policy in support of the death penalty.
Over a period of years, that particular set of columnists had come to the conclusion that they were pro life from cradle to grave, and the publisher agreed that should be the official stance of the paper as well.
Their series of articles earned them a Pulitzer Prize nomination in editorial writing.
I happened to be at the News office the day that they were waiting to hear if they had won. Reporters from various departments poked their head in that afternoon to see if it was appropriate to pop the champagne.
The announcement that came down was that The Oregonian in Portland had beat them out with a series on abuse in a forgotten mental hospital.
At first, everyone acted like it was an honor just to be named as a finalist. Then they spent the rest of my visit dissecting the brief statement that the Pulitzer judges had issued regarding their work.
At one point, I remember someone looking up the precise definition of incisive, the adjective selected by the judges to describe the death penalty series.
I sat silently in a corner of the cubicle wondering why they couldn’t be more content with a job well done.
A Pulitzer is certainly a prestigious award, but the lack of one did not invalidate their talent, at least not in my eyes.
I vowed that day in the News office that I would never let a stranger’s opinion of my writing mean so much to me.
Fast forward about eight years.
A Canadian blogger that I have recently fallen in love with shared a post this week about being in a rut since the publication of her first book last fall.
Now that she is something of a household name, she admitted to editing everything within an inch of its life, afraid that she would offend some of her new readers.
“I edit and edit until I have said absolutely nothing. I am cautious to the point of comatose,” she said.
She seemed to yearn for the days when she wrote about whatever she wanted, whether it was her faith, her family or “Doctor Who,” because no one was reading it anyway.
Now each potential subject matter must pass litmus tests like “What will people say?” and “Does this fit ‘my brand?’”
As I made my way through this blog post, I realized how often I do the same thing.
I am grateful for all of the people who tell me how much they love reading about Wyatt. However, I am not ignorant of other Facebook comments made along the lines of “Why doesn’t someone tell Jennifer Cohron to stop writing about her kid? Nobody cares.”
Sometimes I start to put a funny Wyatt story into column form and then stop in mid sentence. “Wait, did I do a Wyatt column last week? Is it too soon to do another one?”
There are other times that I choose to write about more serious topics in the hope that being honest about a struggle I am having will help someone else know that they are not alone.
Then I can expect comments like “I wish you would write about your son more. I can really relate to those.”
Writers are crazy people.
We complain about being universally underpaid, but the truth is we’d do this for free because we could no more not write than we could not breath.
We volunteer some of our innermost thoughts to strangers and then curl up in a corner licking our wounds when some people choose to hurl our words back at us with barbed wires attached.
Once we get a taste of approval, we crave it so much that we start writing what people want to read instead of what a fire in our belly is telling us must be written and end up producing mediocrity.
I don’t think writers are alone in this. Surely other people also wake up one day and realize that the thing you love to do most isn’t as much fun as it used to be because you’re mostly doing it with someone else in mind.
My new favorite blogger found the inspiration she needed from Ms. Frizzle from the children’s cartoon “The Magic School Bus.” (If you want to connect those dots, Google Sarah Bessey sometime.)
I have no way of predicting what will inspire my writing this year, but I’m confident that I will find it when I need it.
Frankly, it has to be better than writing a whole column about writing, which I’m pretty sure I just did. Check that off the bucket list.