Register Friday | June 22 | 2018

Why Do Now What You Can Always Put Off for Later?

Profile piece procrastination

So here’s the thing, I have a profile due for work tomorrow and I’m doing the one thing I think every writer has an advanced PhD in: Procrastinating. I did the interview two days ago, watched the movie that the young actress is in, hell, I even have the whole thing laid out in my head. The most important part of shorter profiles is the lead, the opening paragraph. If you fail to get the piece off the ground, if your editor comes to you and says, “everything is great, can you just come into the piece from a different angle?” then you are basically fucked. Rewrite the whole damn thing. If you were building a house, and the foundation was somehow uneven, you would lay brick upon brick until till you stood back, and to your dismay saw only slanted concrete. Start over. Same thing with the opening.

There are specific things that have to go into every piece. Who is this person, what are they doing, why are you covering them, where are they from, where do they fit in. These are the essentials, the bricks. You sort of scatter them throughout, but they have to be there. “So-and-so stars in such-and-such flick, in theaters now. He’s young, good looking, studied under Stella Adler’s nephew, and came to acting only after his sister broke her ankle, and he stepped into her place as the Baby Jesus in his 3rd grade school play.” Done and done. Now, those biographical facts are going to be there, without it you’ve wasted your, and the readers, time. But connecting them with a stabilizing idea, well that’s where I can frequently go wrong. I have a tendency to overreach my first go round, to take some parcel of a young actor or musician’s life and connect it to the larger universe. I’ve found this is a monumental mistake. Although I find it interesting to parallel their effort (if it’s of worth) to some larger artistic theme, readers don’t generally give a shit. Oh yeah, that’s the last thing. Apparently I don’t write these things for my own enjoyment. There are these people, we’ll call them “readers,” who are considered what I will term here as your “audience.” Keeping them engaged, for some stupid reason, is important.

Instead of writing the piece last night, I tidied up my apartment. Instead of starting it after work, I went to see a young coffee shop crooner at the Bitter End in the West Village. Now I’m sitting here, in front of my computer and I’m writing. My blog. At 10:11PM. This, although it is writing, doesn’t really count towards my salary. The subtle art of procrastination. I mastered in college—I was the King of the All-Nighter on campus—but now I’m something like Yoda. Don’t get me wrong, the piece will get done, on time, I will sit down with the editor, we will talk about it, I’ll make whatever changes s/he feels is appropriate, and we’ll put the damn thing to bed, usually in some form that I’m not entire happy with, but that’s the other thing. Magazines have specific styles of writing, and it’s paramount to keep that in mind. You could write a piece worthy of the Pulitzer (something I have yet to do, but hold your breath, it’s coming), and if it doesn’t fit the overall aesthetic of the magazine it’s written for, it won’t see the light of day. So, in general, you end up disappointedly proud. Or you grow to just ignore it all.

I remember in college, the first time my name ever appeared in a magazine, I took the issue to the framer, had the cover and the page cut out and posted them together. It was mounted on my wall for about a year. Somewhere along the line I realized I was probably the only person who was even aware of this piece anymore, the magazine having been off stands for over a year. It took some of the luster away. There are very few pieces I would actually frame now, and any of them that I’m proud of are generally reviews. That’s where your opinion sits, obviously. But profiles, the kick for me comes in the interview, in seeing the person do what they do, in talking with them. The writing, when it’s for a shorter profile, is almost secondary. It’s still important; it’s just that after you’ve put down all the requisite information, your leeway to move around and implant your distinct perspective is the size of an outhouse. Big enough to do your business, but not quite as airy as you’d hope it would be.

The piece is done in my head. I will be happy with this one, mainly because of the subject and my level of interest in it. I will sit down sometime after 11 and write it out. Let it sit. Read it again. Edit. Let it sit. Come back to it around 1. Read it again. Edit. And maybe get into work ½ hour early tomorrow to give it one more look through. Voila. Finito. And probably forgotten shortly thereafter.

Happy 4th everyone. I’ll be heading out to the beach to see my dad. He's been in Oklahoma a ton recently taking care of my grandmother, so it will be nice to catch up, talk about Derek Jeter's catch last night. Have a safe one. Peace.