Next chapter: On writing, pajamas and why I don’t “change” | Opinion


Oh no! It’s five minutes to twelve!

I better change my clothes or become… an official bastard?

Not five before midnight; five minutes before noon! I’m still in pajamas.

Unless I have a date in the morning, more mornings than I should admit, it’s noon and I’m still, shall we say, in evening dress.

In the summer, when Indiana stays drenched in light until 9 p.m., I tend not to put these pajamas on until bedtime or close. But in winter? I can barely wait until night falls at 5:30 a.m. to ditch day clothes for cozy flannels.

On a 24-hour winter day, I often spend 18 of those hours in my pajamas. Are you horrified? I am.

Yet at the same time, I probably won’t change, neither in my routine nor in my clothing choices. But when noon strikes, if I haven’t already, I rush to put on real clothes. I have an ounce of pride!

Blame my work. Even though I am not employed, I still consider what I do as my life’s work.

I have this column to write twice a month, and every time I’m asked to put together a program for something, usually related to my books, or some aspect of writing, it requires creating one. new. I also keep in touch with a group of friends, colleagues and organizations via email, and I have homework nine months a year through Bible Study Fellowship.

Since I prefer to write in the morning, I see little reason to dress for the occasion. The routine is to start the day sipping coffee while I check and respond to emails. Then I turn to whatever particular piece of writing I’m working on that day. Before I know it, the morning is gone.

Writing a program or a column involves a process that other types of writing do not have. I think everyone’s writing would be better if they (and I) took the time to use the process. It’s more like this:

Once I’ve given appropriate levels of thought and possibly research to said program or column topic, it’s time to build a rough draft. Then, in something akin to letting dough rise before baking bread, I let the draft linger on my laptop, writing the equivalent of a kitchen counter.

When the writing has rested for a while, and I’ve come to reflect on the piece, I realize that it’s not brilliant, but rather, it might even stink.

It only takes time to re-read this draft to realize that it contains a certain smell, whether it means a stinky festival or not. So I clean it up, add and subtract a few things, and see if it’s my standard length for a column (shorter than a speech) or for a 20 minute author speech.

So how do you do a 20 minute show? There is no mystery. Simply type the script in 16 point type, double spaced on 12 pages.

Then save your program. Listen to yourself speak. Where are the hard points? Where do words flow poorly or are they overused? Does everything make sense? Is it in a logical order?

From there, you’ll need to make a few tweaks, and with a bit of luck (and some skill) you’ll have a program ready to go. Practice it again, then a few more times.

Why is 20 minutes the preferred length of a presentation? When I started all this in 2014 and asked Brian how long these speaking programs should last, he had an immediate response: “Twenty minutes. No one wants to hear someone speak for more than 20 minutes.

He was onto something. If someone asks me how long my speech will last and I answer 20 minutes, there is a kind of relief on the part of the caller and a reaction like: “That’s perfect! Or they might even suggest that length before me.

It was only recently that I learned something interesting. TED Talks are not random durations. They last 18 minutes.

If you listen to a TED talk, you might be amazed at how much a speaker covers during this time, as well as how engaged they are and how they keep you satisfied, yet wanting more.

The last thing you want in a speaker – as a listener – is someone who makes you wonder if they’ll ever stop talking! Or that repeats itself or wanders. Make every word count.

Now, if you add other components, for example photos or audience participation activities, these do not count as your speaking time.

Once we had a young journalist at the Courier who printed his stories. Then you heard him read each story quietly as part of his self-editing process. He likely holds the record for the most Hoosier State Press Association awards anyone at the paper has ever personally won in any given year. I can’t help but think that reading it aloud contributed to this distinction.

I confess that I don’t take the time to read my columns out loud the way I do for speeches, but I’ve also never set a record for HSPA awards.

There is a distinct difference between the copy I write in the morning and the copy I write later in the day. Mornings are the best, hands down.

When is your best time of day to finish your job or favorite hobby? Have you a? It is certainly a luxury to spend a few hours most of the time in pajamas to work on my trade. It is also a blessing of this place called the retreat, a blessing that I do not take for granted.

Donna Cronk is retired editor of The Courier-Times. Its Next Chapter column appears on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. Connect with her at [email protected]


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