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Opinion

Writing columns provides creative experience

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September 18, 2014

I had always taken the months of June, July and August in my home place of Ravenwood — a neighborhood south of Hastings — before this past summer. This year was a change: I continued staying in River Falls. Both of my roommates moved out, so I continued on by myself and observed the changes of this small college town.

Last semester, I was known to a few as the kid with purple hair.

The official start of my summer was when I sheared “the purps” to a tinge. It disappeared eventually when I shaved it down so that I could have a chance at landing a job. I noticed the energy of River Falls dropped like my purple hair strands did.

A small crowd stayed back, a few hammered through a three-week summer class, and most students moved away. The pace of every individual day slowed down, and the campus was left nearly empty.

I began to prepare myself to be a consistent columnist: I listened to podcasts while making breakfast, read Hemingway over coffee, and then–because I refused to pay money for Internet and cable–made my way to the library every day to use its resources.

The goal was to consume and practice language in every possible way. “I hate not writing”. This is what writer Christopher Hitchens has said. To be bothered by not recording what my mind observes is how I wish my mind to work.

The summer break inevitably whittled away and I have not gotten to this point, but it takes time. The time has brought a student audience of thousands to push me to think even further, and with more wit and rigor.

I go into the fall with most of my inspiration being drawn from the inventor of gonzo journalism: the infamous Hunter S. Thompson. He seemed to be the craziest of them all. While I may try to emulate him this term, I will go about columns with other inspiration too.

One basic tip that has stuck with me is, again, from Hitchens: he said that he viewed writing columns as a conversation with an intelligent friend.

Another is from journalist Thomas Friedman. In a video interview I discovered on Khan Academy, he said that a good column is when the reader picks it up and learns something new in one of six ways: Someone picks it up and says, “I didn’t know that!”

Someone says, “I never looked at it that way.”

Someone says, “You said exactly what I felt, I just didn’t know how.” Someone says, “I want to kill you and your family.”

“You make me laugh, you made me cry.” “You challenged me.”

My goal is to simply get any comments at all. Last semester, I did not receive any written comments to respond to. Ruben Rosario, a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, visited one of my classes and said that when he receives no response, he wonders what he did wrong.

I will try to string this ink and these pixels together to make sense, and to dutifully benefit the reader in some way. This is all practice for me, selfishly. But when writing columns it shifts towards the audience. This is something I will learn and get better at. Columns are an experiment. My intention is not to shock, but to cast my own strong opinion out for review by others so that the opinion itself can be improved, and also my skill as a writer.

The universe, the earth, the country, the state, the city and then there is myself, at a desk, writing these words. When in this perspective it is easy not to hesitate with public thoughts, but sometimes it is difficult to do, especially when the view is not popular. I have had many doubts about going public. It is nice knowing I am only one brain among billions.

Jack Haren is a journalism student with a political science minor. His free time is spent snowboarding, skateboarding, reading, writing, designing, listening, experimenting and living minimally. In the future he wishes to freelance and travel the world.