Budding Writer, 1979: A remarkably unremarkable day

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This bust of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois is one of several the artist did in preparation for his work on Mount Rushmore. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Seriously? How could I have considered Abraham Lincoln’s birthday an unremarkable day? Yet there it is, in my journals from my early days as a writer. Like many young adults, I was self-absorbed and had other things on my mind:

A remarkably unremarkable day. Called Journal-Opinion and got an appointment for Wed., Feb. 21st. Had some help from Frances on my car — he let me put it in the heated garage to thaw out a suspected gasline freezeup. I tried writing up the TV Guide article but it just came out flat. Tomorrow I’ll try a new angle. Card from Mom, bills, and a letter from [Dartmouth Trustee] Robert Kilmarx in mail today. Kilmarx thanked me for trustee memo and asked my advice on problem of vulgarity. I’ll draft a response tomorrow. (In the words of Gone with the Wind, “tomorrow is anothuh day.”

Howard W. Fielding, “Journal, Volume II,” 12 February 1979

Looking back, this budding writer could have used some good professional advice.

  1. Get the name of your potential employer right! Repeatedly in these entries I said the name of the paper I was applying to was the Journal-Opinion. I didn’t learn until I started writing for them that there is no hyphen.
  2. Get the name of your friend right! As I realized in later entries, Francis is the spelling for a man, Frances for a woman. Francis, aka Izzy, was a man. (The mnemonic is that it’s -is for him and -es for her.)
  3. Use consistent style! Throughout these entries I underlined (which is easier to do with a handwritten manuscript) titles of books and major works, and put titles of shorter articles, songs, or stories in quotes. The Associated Press style I would later use for nearly 40 years put major titles in Title Case but not italicized, and lesser works in quotes. This is probably because typesetting italics in newspapers was complicated. The Chicago Manual of Style says to italicize major works and quote lesser ones, which is what I will attempt to do from here on, except when I don’t. (BTW: Writing italics in longhand isn’t easy either.)
  4. Write what you know. You were an expert in vulgarity. Enough said.
  5. Tomorrow is NOT another day. Today is the most important day you have, especially for a writer.

Fittingly, Lincoln put that part best, as we’ll see in the next few entries:

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