To whom it may concern:
Congratulations! You’ve done it. You’ve officially secured a spot as a Reader Columnist for 2017. Excited? You should be. For the next year you’ll have carte blanche (well, almost) to tell the world (okay, the Greater South Puget Sound Region) how you feel on anything and everything. (Except being vegan. Please don’t. I beg you.) But there’s also another reason you should be excited.
You have secured my slot in the rotation and it’s definitely the best one to inherit. My fellow columnists — Barbara Parsons, Stuart Grover, Michelle Ryder, Steve Jaech and Manola Secaira — have set the bar so ridiculously high I honestly feel bad for their replacements. Through their words, we’ve traveled to distant parts of the world, learned about the struggles and triumphs of their loved ones and even gained wisdom from Pulitzer Prize winning poet Theodore Roethke. Their command of the English language has been evident from the start and they’ve enriched our lives in many ways.
On the other hand, the sole place I’ve taken you is back to the 1980s. I devoted an entire column to a conversation I once had with my thermostat and the only wise man I’ve quoted was Mr. Miyagi. In other words, I’ve set the bar low. Really low. You’re welcome.
We’re family now, which means I’ll let your calls go to voicemail, ignore your texts and block you on Facebook. But it also means I want to help you where I can. So let me give you a taste of what to expect in the coming year and how to survive it.
The very first requirement is getting your picture taken by one of The News Tribune’s photographers. This may sound easy, but it’s not. My suggestion is to get plenty of rest, have a hearty breakfast and — this is important — become photogenic. If not, your picture may come out looking like you’ve eaten three magic mushrooms and just saw a rainbow for the first time. Don’t believe me? Look up a few inches and to the left.
After that, the real work begins, namely choosing topics you wish to write about and condensing your thoughts down to 750 words. The formula I used was recognizing what was near and dear to my heart and then simply expounding on that. However, I quickly realized repeating “I love donuts” 250 times wouldn’t be very interesting. So I did the next best thing and wrote about growing older, dying alone and being outsmarted by a 7-year old. Now that I think about it, maybe I should’ve stuck with the donut idea. But don’t worry, I’m sure your topics will be much more mature and refined.
Composing the column is actually the easy part. The key is to wait until the very last minute, get it halfway done, hate what you’ve written, stress out (optional, but highly recommended), start over and then submit the finished product at the final hour. (Neat trick: If you’re looking for an excuse to get a deadline extension, the old “my long-lost cousin just died” works every time. And when I say every time, I mean once. Then you have to pick another cousin.)
Being a Reader Columnist extends beyond your stories and deadlines. People you haven’t heard from in years will email with comments. Friends and family will be supportive while also having fun at your expense. When I told a friend my last column would be free of humor he looked me in the eye and deadpanned, “And that’s different how?”
Just don’t forget the most important part of this entire experience: Have fun. Also, prepare to be inspired to write even more in the future. In fact, I’m already planning on authoring the next New York Times Best Seller. I’m not sure of the exact topic, but I’ve heard you should write what you know so I’m thinking “The Procrastinator’s Guide To Sarcastic Friendship” or perhaps “Avoiding Eye Contact In Elevators & Other Tips From A Bitter Introvert.” Stay tuned.
Again, I congratulate you. Take this opportunity to go forth and change the world one column at a time. I’m looking forward to reading your work. And while this advice may be free, I’m not opposed to receiving a small gift as a token of your appreciation. Just remember, I love donuts.
Zac Smith is a water quality technician for Lakewood Water District whose thoughtful and humorous columns have been a pleasure to read. And he loves donuts. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.