Encouragement went a long way

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The first time I wrote an “Opinion” column for a newspaper was in the late 1980s. An entry in my journal was the inspiration. I was nervous because I was sharing personal thoughts and I wondered what kind of reception they would get.

While the words in the journal helped me come up with that column, the idea to write about every day life, my experiences, my thoughts and feelings came from another writer. In fact, reading his column taught me how to put together words in a way that reached readers and kept them reading.

It was the early 1970s and I was barely in my 20s when I took a job at the newspaper in Opp. My first assignment was typesetting copy. Later I moved to society editor, which meant I collected engagement announcements, wedding write-ups, club news, and typeset news written by columnists from little communities near Opp.

On Mondays, I also took my pen and yellow pad and walked in an out of businesses gathering news the owners or employees had to share. I wrote about who visited over the weekend and where folks went if they traveled out of town.

It was about getting enough typeset inches to fill up the society section of the paper. This job introduced me to newspaper work and I fell in love with the smell of ink and the sound of a press running.

I don’t remember how long I simply collected news and typeset copy. There was no writing other than the sentences listing who ate lunch at aunt so-and-so’s house on Sunday.

Then one day, the editor told me he wanted me to try my hand at writing a story for the section. I was excited and terrified at the same time. What I wrote about that first time escapes me, but it began my writing career.

From then on, the society section usually included a feature story of some kind. It might be about someone’s hobby or some interesting thing he or she did for a living. I learned how to interview, take notes and keep quotes accurate writing those first stories.

My writing appeared in the society section, but I loved reading the column that ran on the editorial page. It was often funny, sometimes sad, occasionally expressed an opinion and always was something folks could relate to in their own lives. The editor wrote from his heart and was not afraid to let his readers know him. He allowed them to laugh at him and with him.

He wrote like someone talking to friends. They responded by faithfully reading his words every week.

When I left that job to stay home and raise three children, I thought my newspaper and probably my writing days were over. However, years later I landed a job at the Andalusia Star-News as Lifestyles Editor. I discovered my love affair with journalism was still going on.

During this time, another editor suggested I give writing a personal column a try. Again, I was excited and terrified. As I prepared to write, I remembered that Opp News column and the editor that encouraged me to write in the first place.

I followed his lead and wrote about things that touched me, my family, the community, experiences that made me laugh or cry or shake my head in wonder. Writing that column every week became, and still is, a labor of love.

I find when the words flow from a deep, very personal place the column gets the most response from readers. I discovered this type of writing because I read “Al’s Ramblins” years ago on the editorial page in the Opp News.

So, today as he celebrates another year of life, I write these words to express my appreciation to the person who played a big part in my life by opening the door for me to share my thoughts with the folks who read this column every week.

Happy Birthday John A. Burgess, and thank you.