Linda Weltner''s weekly Ever So Humble column has graced the At Home section of the Boston Globe for 17 years, and is syndicated through The New York Times Wire Service. Her award-winning columns on family life and women''s issues have been gathered in two collections, including Family Puzzles: A Private Life Made Public (Innisfree Press).
How did you get started, then land a coveted spot at the Boston Globe?
I got this particular job by running into the person establishing the Globe''s At Home section. I learned there would be an opening for a columnist. Several outstanding New England writers had already been invited to apply, but this woman said I could submit two columns. The names were taken off the submissions and I was chosen.
What are the keys to writing a personal column?
I have certain rules I never break:
1) Never base a story on anything that costs a great deal of money. There''s an upscale unconsciousness that can lead to complaining about decorating your yacht, if you know what I mean. You must constantly step back and ask, "Is this an equal-opportunity experience?"
2) Never surprise the folks you''re writing about. I always call the people I''ve written about before I send my column to the newspaper. I let people change quotes. After all, they know what they said and what they meant better than I do. I see my writing as a joint effort and often spend hours trying to find a shared reality that represents more than my own point of view.
3) Never use a column to prove you''re right. It can''t be done without bragging. I always head for those moments when I didn''t quite measure up to my own standards or put my foot in it, or learned a painful lesson. I figure if it''s so hard for me to get this right, other people are struggling too.
What special qualifications are required for writing a personal column?
You must be prepared to deal with readers who are angry, judgmental or simply opinionated. It''s important to come to terms with your failings and shortcomings so that you don''t feel defensive when others point them out to you—and they will. People come up to me as if they have every right to comment on the most intimate matters in my life and I appreciate their interest and concern. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, find another field.
Is it difficult to get a column like yours today?
It''s wise to begin with a local newspaper, which will probably accept your best efforts for a very slight salary. This is the place to practice coming up with topics, writing an inviting lead, finishing up in 85 lines and other useful skills. Breaking into a larger market is extremely difficult.
Please talk about your experience with syndication.
Although I pursued syndication, I was told my type of column was already appearing in local newspapers, usually written by someone who lived in town. The Globe, however, invited me to join The New York Times Wire Service, and as a result my column appears, sometimes every week, in newspapers around the country. This is great for my ego, but I don''t receive a penny. This is economical for the papers, but the fact that they can download my column so easily instead of hiring a writer is part of the reason it''s becoming increasingly difficult for newcomers to find a spot.