3 min

Meerkats and missed deadlines

The strain of writing a monthly column

People ask me all the time, “Morgan, how do you do it? How do you come up with a column each and every month, without fail, on deadline, so effortlessly?”

And I toss my head and laugh a gentle, tinkling laugh and I say, “I don’t know. I just do it. It just happens.” And they smile at me, thinking how talented and pretty I am.

But the time has come for me to be truthful with you, darling readers. I owe you that much. I know it will shatter your image of me but I do hope you will soldier on. Here is how it really works.

Every month I wait until the 11th hour to begin. And when I say “begin,” what I mean is “not begin.”

What I mean is, I end a lot of phone conversations with: “I’d better go, my column’s not going to write itself!” and then hang up and lie on my couch fantasizing about my column writing itself.

Then I notice that my throat feels kind of sore. “Oh great,” I think. “I’ll never get my column written if I’m sick.” I decide that I should take a half-hour nap and nip this sickness in the bud. I wake up six hours later.

I wonder if I might be lacking something in my diet and go to the drugstore for multivitamins. At the drugstore I decide that I have been too hard on myself with this whole column thing. The key is to be gentle, make it as positive an experience as possible.

I decide that I will buy some cookies, make some coffee, put on some music and sit down to write. The words will surely flow then.

Upon returning home, I acknowledge that there is no possible way I can make coffee with all these dirty dishes in the kitchen. I do my dishes. A friend calls and expresses surprise that I am doing dishes. I am offended and cut the conversation short because I don’t have time to talk to such unsupportive people when I’ve got a column due.

I go to the computer and email my editor to tell her my column is going to be late again this month. Then I remember I’d wanted to find out more about meerkats.

I Google meerkats. Well, first I Google “mir cats,” “merecats,” “mearcats” and “meer cats.” I send photos of particularly cute meerkats to my friends with funny captions like “The big one is you and the little one is me!”

I notice my own cat’s resemblance to a meerkat. I tell her this. She runs over to me at the sound of my voice and I am suddenly aware that I have been neglecting her. I hold her tightly and cry, promising to quit writing this blasted column so I can spend more time with her.

I wonder where my head has been and how my priorities got so screwed up. I decide to look at pictures of meerkats to cheer myself up but can’t seem to find them on my computer. I spend the next hour organizing my files and folders and create a new folder labelled Meerkats. When I’m done I sit back with the satisfaction that can only come from completing a task.

I speak sternly to myself and prepare to start my column. I stare at the blank screen and feel a terrible sense of paralysis. I remember about keeping the experience a positive one and eat some more cookies.

I try to come up with an idea for this month’s column. I come up empty. I wonder if other columnists have much more interesting lives than mine or if they just make stuff up.

I consider calling up some friends and getting them to relay any recent wacky adventures they’ve had so I can write about them. I contemplate how unfair it is that my own life is so boring because I have to spend all this time writing a column.

I ignore phone calls from my editor asking where said column is. I call my girlfriend and snap at her when she asks how my column is coming along.

She tries to help and starts brainstorming topics for me but all her ideas are stupid. I realize I am wasting precious time listening to her stupid ideas when I could be writing. I return to my computer with more cookies.

Eventually, I come up with five or six column ideas. I pick the one I hate the least and, finally, I start to write.

The sun comes up. I proofread my words once more through bleary eyes and send my completed column off to my editor along with an apology and a promise to meet the deadline next time for sure. I turn the ringer off on the phone and go to bed before she can call and tell me I’m a hack who has no business writing.

I lie in bed and vow I won’t put myself through this again next month. I drift off to sleep planning to write two or three columns next week so I’ll be ahead of the game. I dream that meerkats are eating my cookies and laughing at me.