The other day I was on the phone with my friend and colleague, Nettie Hartsock, discussing our backgrounds as writers, when I mentioned an assignment I’d worked on that hadn’t turned out as planned.
Fifteen years earlier, a newspaper editor asked me to interview beauty-queen-and-singing-star Vanessa Williams. Although I wasn’t a fan of Williams’ Top 40 style of music, I consented. To prepare for the interview, I researched her music and career for a week. Unfortunately, the singer had a scheduling conflict and cancelled. Suddenly, I was stuck with a somewhat in depth knowledge of Williams’ work, and nowhere to use it.
Nettie laughed. She too had put in days on writing projects that had gotten the axe through no fault of her own. She said, “You should write up that story as a post.”
Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that.
A couple of months before my Nettie conversation, I was being toured through The National Press Club in Washington, DC by another friend and colleague, Sam Horn. I was to give a speech there about freewriting and problem-solving to Sam’s group, and she thought I’d enjoy knowing the club’s history.
As we wandered through the barroom, I broke away and ran to a framed sketch, hanging on the wall, of Dick Tracy. It wasn’t just any Tracy sketch. It was drawn especially for, and autographed to, The National Press Club by the character’s creator, Chester Gould. I told Sam:
“I can’t believe it. I’m inches away from the real Dick Tracy. I mean, Chester Gould drew this cartoon with his own hands.
“Seeing this takes me back to the late ‘60s when I was, like, six years old. My dad was alive, and Sunday morning’s he’d buy the New York Daily News, and it was divided into sections, and must have been a foot thick.
“I’d grab the comics section, it was in full color, and there on the cover, every week, was Gould’s Dick Tracy strip. I read it, kind of, but not really. I was more interested in playing with it.
“I’d spread the pages across the floor, take a hunk of Silly Putty, flatten it into a pancake, and smash it onto Dick Tracy’s face. When I peeled back the putty, a duplicate of his face would be stuck to it.
“I’d pull the putty wide, and Tracy’s face would expand. Then, I’d squish it into a ball, and his face would bunch up like a walnut. That Silly Putty was my seventy-nine cent version of Photoshop.”
When I finally wound down, Sam said to me: “Mark, that’s a post. Readers want to learn good, solid information they can use, but they also want to learn about the writer. You should write up that story.”
The idea hadn’t dawned on me.
Because of Nettie’s encouragement, the Vanessa Williams story appeared as my previous post. Thanks to Sam’s counsel, you’ve read the Dick Tracy anecdote here.
If you know a content creator, consider lending a hand by pointing out intriguing ideas and stories of theirs as they mention them. The immediacy of your remarks can be of help.
If you yourself are a content creator, consider asking colleagues to do the same for you. If they think something you’ve said might interest a wider audience, suggest that they point it out.
We, of course, need to be the final judge as to what we create. Still, at times we get locked into our own theories as to what constitutes a useful and entertaining post or video. Getting a fresh perspective can shed light on an idea that we might have otherwise overlooked.