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Facing deadline, we can write for paper almost anytime, any place

November 27, 2005|By JOHN LEAGUE

On Wednesday evening, Nov. 23, I was making my rounds through the newsroom before leaving for the Thanksgiving holiday.

I often take a stroll through the newsroom before leaving to see what's going on.

Linda Duffield, a longtime editor at The Herald-Mail, and the best wordsmith I've ever worked with, asked me if I had filed my column yet because it was scheduled to run today.

I said it was not due; it was scheduled to run Sunday, Dec. 4. Linda is rarely wrong about issues like this, so I started to feel as if I were about to have a column to write on short notice.

Linda checked the schedule. One said Dec. 4, but a revised schedule said my column actually was assigned to run Sunday, Nov. 27 (today).

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Oops.

Column writing is something that doesn't come easily to me, so I usually make sure I have a topic in mind several weeks in advance of the due date, set aside two to three hours to write it, and file it at least four or five days in advance, usually earlier.

So when I left the newspaper Wednesday night, with the next few days accounted for with family, friends and a full day of work commitment Friday, I had a bit of a deadline challenge.

What's a part-time columnist to do? You do the best you can with the time you have.

So as I write this, I'm sitting on a side street across from Baker Park in Frederick, Md. I'm in my car at 7:45 Thanksgiving morning, awaiting the start in 45 minutes of a 5K race, typing this column on my laptop.

Necessity is the mother of invention. (And thank goodness for laptop computers!)

A friend used to call what I'm doing today "writing on the clock."

I think he took the terminology from the NFL college player draft, when each NFL team has 15 minutes or so to make its player selection or forfeit the draft pick.

Columnists and reporters (and even publishers) face this sort of writing pressure every day.

Fortunately, I can write pretty much what I want in this space, so I just needed an idea that would fill the left side of the page.

In doing so, I thought it might be of interest to readers to know that we reporters and editors can write a story pretty much any place and at any time, primarily because in many instances, we have no choice.

Years ago, I was a reporter. I have written stories in my car, hotel room, a phone booth, courtrooms, lawyers' offices, emergency rooms and on the sidelines of football games. Nothing terribly unusual about that, actually. Many reporters have filed stories from far more challenging environments, especially during wars and in the wake of natural disasters.

I have written stories on 125-pound contraptions called Telerams (an early version of a PC), typewriters, legal pads and hotel stationery. (Now we have state-of-the-art PCs and Macs and small but powerful laptops.)

The closer the deadline, the more one's mind tends to focus, blocking everything out but the story you're working on and the computer screen in front on your nose.

So I'll call this my Seinfeld column. It's really not about anything but the pressure of writing a column and filling the space.

I'm estimating that I've done just that, so I'm going to e-mail this to the office, and get to the starting line.

John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7073, or by e-mail at jleague@herald-mail.com.

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