Writing a Column

July 4, 2011

Red and white fireworks against a black sky and pond
Celebrating my column and more on July 4

Writing a column, for me, is both privilege and challenge. It’s a journalistic assignment that positions the writer as an authority on a particular subject, builds an audience of readers, and earns a somewhat regular income.

In the magazine and newspaper arena, which is where I’ve keyboarded most of my career, there are several types of columns. Some dispense opinion; others give advice. Others are informational. Columns run daily, weekly, monthly or any other frequency, and usually in the same space on the page.

I’ve written several columns. My first effort was for the local newspaper when I was a senior at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg, Indiana. I wrote the Dragonland Review, which was a compendium of school goings-on. Our mascot was a dragon. Maybe it still is.

My first professional column was also one of my first freelance writing jobs. I’d been working as a fashion coordinator and stylist when I was tapped by a subsidiary of the Chicago Tribune to cover suburban fashion events. It’s customary to ask established reporters to do columns, but in my case, my background filled a need at the paper. From there, I graduated to general writing assignments. I’ve settled into lifestyle features, which includes homes, architecture, design, healthcare and education as well as fashion.

For the past decade I’ve written a column called “Community Living” for the Chicago Tribune. The goal is to give readers information that will make their condominium and homeowner associations more successful and harmonious. I’ve covered a broad range of topics such as new legislation, special assessments, smoking wars, bedbugs and how to have a pool party for 400 people. My column runs twice a month in the Chicago Homes section.

The biggest challenges are coming up with ideas and meeting deadlines. It doesn’t matter how many other projects are on my desk or where my social interests lie. Every two weeks without fail I turn in a column on a brand-new subject, complete with sources and references. The column doesn’t pay the highest of all my freelance jobs, but it’s the most prominent and recognized. I am honored the assignment is mine.

How do you get started as a columnist? Launch a blog. Come up with a subject you have a lot to say about, perhaps your life as an at-home mom or photography advice for neophytes or your hippie political views. Then write about it, and write some more. Just keep on writing.