On Expectations, Writer’s Anxiety, and 7up/7down
I began planning to write this article in September 2020, right before we published the third issue of The Commentator. Now, in May of 2021, after completing my 7 up/7down column for the 12th and final issue of The Commentator, Volume 86, I have taken a pile of word vomit and concocted quite a stellar reflective piece (if I may say so myself).
I’m not an editor, and my official title on the masthead is “Staff Writer,” so who am I, and why am I writing an opinions reflection piece in The Commentator?
Well that’s an excellent question. And I don’t have an answer for you. However, one day I received a text from the former columnist, who happened to know me quite well, in which she asked if I wanted to write the column for the 2020-21 year. After getting over the initial shock and confusion, I said, “why not?”
When I first accepted the position of writing 7 up/7 down, I was presented with two decisions to make. At the time they did not seem to be such a big deal, however, now, looking back, I realize that they have shaped what I’ve written and how I viewed my column throughout the year.
The first question I was asked was whether or not I wanted to have my name attached to the column or to write anonymously as had been done in the younger years of the column.
After thinking about it for a minute, I chose to have my name printed.
Writing anonymously can be a dangerous thing. It removes all sense of responsibility for the words printed on paper. Perhaps that is why The Commentator very rarely prints an article or comment by an anonymous individual. True journalism is about getting to the truth of the matter, getting down to the facts on the ground and bringing attention to something that your readers should care about. Writing anonymously, however, leaves less room for feedback or dialogue with the readers.
Having my name printed means that I have taken ownership of the words I wrote, of the people of whom I have poked fun of and at the institution that I’ve called out. In all honesty, having my name attached to the column gives me a confidence boost because people know that I wrote something that they enjoyed.
The second question took me a bit longer to answer. The question was, would I want 7 up/ 7 down to be published on its own page online like all the other articles would be or just have it in the PDF. Also, while The Commentator has printed eight physical issues this year, it was unclear at the time if that would happen during Fall 2020 due to COVID-19.
I determined that I would only wish to be on the PDF and not on its own website link. This decision was twofold. First, I wanted to give myself more freedom to write while knowing that only those who knew and cared to look would find it. Second, it was important for me to remember that I was just a student writing a column consisting of 14 lines in a school newspaper. It really wasn’t such a big deal, and it was important to me to remind myself this exact point. My proof came a few weeks ago when I wrote an opinions piece about why graduation should be in person and I got more feedback on it than an entire year’s worth of 7up/7down, but I digress.
I often oscillated between feeling like everyone knew who I was and knew what I was writing about and then realizing that besides for the fact that that wasn’t the case, it wouldn’t even matter if students at YU were reading it or not.
It can be daunting to write “a humor column” in a publication that will be published, printed and available on the internet for the rest of eternity. The insecurity of failing to be funny can be overwhelming, especially when you don’t know how your reader will feel.
Will they laugh with me or at me? Do they understand what I was trying to say? Could they have appreciated the line better if I wrote it differently? And I can’t believe I let that get printed without the comma! Now nobody will understand what I was trying to say! Why do I even try?
But how does one combat all of these feelings and fears of not being good enough?
It's at times like these when I remember what I’m doing and what I’m not doing. It’s one thing to be a funny person, to create entertaining and original content. Getting the words right, the inflection and the flow of the sentences, the references and of course the order and placement of each individual line, those are all secondary.
When writing this column or anything that will be published, it becomes extremely easy to forget what the goal is. Why am I writing this? Who am I writing this for? What do I want the people who are reading this to feel?
And the biggest question to ask yourself: If no one reads this, will I still be proud of what I wrote?
My goal is to take a critical look at Yeshiva University, student sentiment, human interactions or current events and change the way that people think about them. I do go for the laugh when I’m writing, as anyone who is writing a “humor column” would, but it’s more than that. My goal is to get the readers to find patterns and connections between seemingly unrelated things. It is to find the humor in serious matters and draw attention to the ridiculousness of the minutiae we experience on the daily. Humor is a defense mechanism, a weapon or a tool depending on how it’s used.
But at the same time, for me, 7 up/7down was about being a relatable human being who tries to find humor in the events around me. In a Zoom Q&A session, Morning Brew, a daily business newsletter’s writer, Toby Howell gave a piece of valuable advice as someone who has to figure out how to weave humor and entertainment into serious and oftentimes very unfunny current events, all while writing for a massively diverse audience.
The advice he gave was to just think of a handful of people who you know will definitely be reading what you wrote, no matter what it says: your mom, a few friends, and that’s it. When you write, write just for them. If they enjoy what you wrote, then there is a huge chance that the majority of those who are reading it will enjoy it, too. And, if there are people that don’t appreciate it, then that’s on them.
This advice was simple yet incredibly eye opening for me. Not everything is going to be a win. Not everyone will fully understand the layers behind most lines (perhaps that’s a good thing), and it’s entirely unrealistic to think that that would be the case. But if I keep in mind that I am just writing it for that intimate group of people who already believe in me and care, then it doesn’t really matter what everyone else thinks. If they don’t like it, I feel a little sad for them, and if they do like it, then that’s just bonus points. And at the end of the day, 7 up/7 down is simply just 14 lines.
A common phenomenon that occurs at YU is that someone will approach a Commentator editor and pitch a brilliant idea for an article, but when asked if they want to write it they say “maybe” and then we’ll never hear from them again.
Writing a paper, an article or even an email is not easy. My last piece of advice, which is really for myself but I figured that others could use it as well, is this: The only thing stopping you from writing is yourself. Sometimes you just need to open up a word document and stare at that blank screen in front of you. The words are in your head. You just have to pause in the terrifying silence and listen to your thoughts. You don’t need to sound intelligent or witty in your first draft. Often, we are our biggest critics, constantly editing and revising because we don’t think it sounds good or looks good or feels good. It’s at moments like these when you need to remind yourself, the words are there, I’m just getting them out of my head and onto the paper.
I can assure you that the editors of the paper will guide you through the editing process and help you find the right words you want to say.
The goal is not to write perfectly, the goal is to get the words to say what you want them to and then the words will speak for themselves.
Photo Caption: 7up/7Down
Photo Credit: The Commentator