Budding Writer, 1979: Ideas

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Trees reach for the clouds in Hartford, Vermont, on February 20, 2023. By Howard Fielding. Offered under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

After patting myself on the back for meeting all my goals for my first weeks as a freelancer, I did as promised. I took a break and tried to drum up some new ideas.

My journal for this date 44 years ago shows me on the road to Hartford, Connecticut, past these very trees on Interstate 91. There I visited a friend at the University of Connecticut Law School “and helped her work on an application for a writ of habeas corpus … until well into the night. I was actually enjoying it, serving both as a legal springboard and as editorial consultant.”

Looking back, I suppose I could have turned that into a niche professional specialty: editorial consultant for law firms. A few years later, a public relations consultant offered some work rewriting legal contracts into plain English using the strategies of Rudolph Flesch.

The Flesch Readability Score is still used today, built into many word processing systems. It’s part of Microsoft Word and this WordPress site, for example. In those primitive days of typewriters, it would have to be calculated manually or performed by a well-trained editor.

But I was still suffering from law school PTSD. A one-night editorial stand for a close friend was about all I could handle. Still, I found that I did some of my best creative thinking while on long drives. For some reason, the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95 were the most inspirational, but I-91 had its moments, too:

IDEAS were few and far between driving down, although mood was rich and spring-like. Here are a few:

“City Mouse, Country Mouse”: After Bob’s ski weekend (and disappointment at local restaurants and entertainment and roads, and being snowed in) Bill visits him in NYC when meeting with his publisher.

I should research/road trip The Great American Road Trip next summer, after the lease is up and most projects are in cooling-off stage.

What about a company that does paper-pushing for others for a price?

Howard W. Fielding
Journal, Volume II
27 February 1979

I’ve already told you about “City Mouse, Country Mouse,” intended as a gift for my cousin. Apparently I had already fleshed out the characters as Bob and Bill. Which is which? I don’t recall.

The Great American Road Trip was a title I had in mind for a picaresque tale of a contemporary East-West cross-country adventure paralleling the westward expansion of the country. I never developed that either, although I later thought of using a similar title for a series of travel books.

And what about a company that does paper-pushing for others? Yes, they exist. They’re called editorial consultants and public relations firms. Over the years I dabbled with work for a few of those, although not very successfully striking out on my own.

I’ll be taking a break from this series as the journal journeys into personal matters and I attend to some real-life projects in today’s world. When it returns, we move into my early days writing for a weekly newspaper. To be continued…