10 things I hate about writing a column


Ahmad Rafay Alam July 25, 2010

1. Editors who call out of the blue and after ages to ask what you’re up to. It’s usually a sign that, somewhere, a deadline is approaching and the editor needs something to publish. Thanks for not asking, but I was busy. And I’m feeling fine, by the way.

2.  Sub-editors. Yes, you. The ones who have to go through copy to make sure us columnists look good. Why aren’t you doing your job? Why do I have to wake some mornings to find my headline about a miraculous jet-escape (“Plane crashes: pilot ejaculates”) turned into something borderline unprintable?

3. The agony of not having anything to write about. Next time you catch a columnist on their own, ask them a question — the time, if you can’t think of anything else — and you’ll get a 15 minute explanation to the secrets of the universe (we’re all experts, you see). But put them in front of a computer with a relatively simple task and a 750 word limit, and watch them wilt. There’s nothing worse than writer’s block.

4. Not getting to the idea fast enough. Sometimes, in the midst of a bad bout of writer’s block with a deadline approaching fast, something happens on the news that means, if you finish it on time, your column can have a chance at being the first and, thereby, most influential comment on an issue. Of course, for every one time fortune smiles on the few, several others are left cursing their luck and swearing to do something about their mid-week publishing date.

5. The embarrassment of making a mistake. Whether you’ve got your Ionic columns mixed with your Corinthian pillars or whether a simple typo is the difference between the President of Pakistan being a nice guy or a nice gay, making a mistake is embarrassing. Of course, for a columnist a mistake is not just a mistake. It’s a public mistake, and that’s a different ball game.

6. Being asked questions that I have no idea how to answer. Look, I’m a columnist. Not an expert. People who ask questions about something written four years ago clearly don’t understand the subtle, but profound, difference.

7. Stupid comments. Sometimes, when you’ve spent time working on an idea and then really polishing the inflection with which it’s discussed in an article, it’s frustrating for readers to talk about why they think Partition wasn’t a good idea and what the Two Nation Theory really means.

8. Competition. The readers’ comments section on The Express Tribune’s internet edition only stimulates our competitive instincts. Suddenly, one is green with envy every time George Fulton gets over 60 comments or when Omar Bilal Akhtar racks up over 100 responses. I seem to have turned to gambling, offering my editor odds at whether or not a particular headline would gather over 50 comments.

9. Getting paid late. One publication employed the tactic of paying columnists months after their piece was published. People who got their cheques often forgot that they’d written something and were taken off guard by what they mistook as the publisher’s generosity. I keep my column income to one side and use it to book (infrequent) holidays. When the plane takes off, I amuse myself with the thought that I’m flying on my own hot air.

10. Not being a “writer”. I must have several hundred thousand words under my belt. A veritable War and Peace. But I’m not a writer. That hallowed title is reserved for people who have risen above the confines of a word-limit and broken off a two-thought-at-a-time style of writing. And simply bundling up old columns and putting them into a compilation doesn’t make anyone a writer. It makes them lazy.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2010.

COMMENTS (6)

rehan | 11 years ago | Reply Zabardast!Rafay,had it not been for the 'Comment being moderated'scissors,I would've submitted this comment 1000 times...
Isa | 11 years ago | Reply Hmmm, does # 9 refer to Daily Times? ;)
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