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Writing On My Mind

Andy RooneyPeople often ask me why I spend so much time in my office if all I do is a column a week and one three-minute piece for "60 Minutes."

There is a widespread opinion that writing isn't real work. The diminution of the job of writing in the minds of readers may have something to do with the double meaning of the word "write."

When a 5-year-old learns to put the letters C-A-T on a piece of paper with Crayolas, his mother says he is "learning to write."

When people underestimate how difficult it is to write something that is going to be printed or spoken before an audience, they're confusing that kind of writing with the writing done with Crayolas.

While the work writers put into their product may be underestimated, the importance of what they have to say is overestimated. Writers enjoy a status in society that is out of proportion to their real worth. Just by the fact that they are writers, they are accorded a kind of celebrity status and their advice and presence is sought after.

There's no way I can say this without seeming churlish, mean-spirited and petty, but professional writers are often expected to give their services free to organizations that wouldn't dream of asking a carpenter, an electrician, a doctor, or even an insurance agent to give his time free.

If I get 100 letters a day, five of them are asking me for something because my name is known as a writer.

A grade school teacher sends me 24 papers written by her fifth grade students and asks me to mark them and provide criticism for each one. I am to select a winner who will receive a prize.

A magazine editor writes to say they are doing an article on the healing power of laughter and will I please write back giving him some examples of the sort of thing that makes me laugh. (I throw this out, resisting the temptation to say that people who believe that laughter cures an illness make me laugh.)

A group of senior citizens is initiating a new program designed to find useful work for men and women over 75 years old. Will I speak at a dinner they are having in October and explain how I think their goal might best be accomplished.

A group of women in a town on the outskirts of Chicago is raising money for the work they do with people who cannot read, by putting out a book of favorite recipes of well-known people. Will I please contribute my favorite recipe.

There are five requests a week from high school students. "My teacher has asked us to write about a person we admire. I admire you very much. Could you please tell me who influenced you the most as a writer and what the most important day of your life was?"

"Enclosed is the manuscript of my book which I have been working on for eight years. I greatly admire you as a writer and it would mean a great deal to me if you would read my book and tell me what you think of it." The fat enclosure is 347 pages.

There seem to be thousands of so-called writers who depend on other writers to write their books for them. Fifty times a year, I get a letter asking me to write something to be included in an anthology, i.e.: "I am currently putting together a book to be called 'MOTHER' and would appreciate it if you would tell me what your mother meant to you and how she influenced your career."

I dislike all these requests because it makes me feel terrible to be rude, and when I get one, I am usually rude.

(Write to Andy Rooney at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or via email at aarooney5@yahoo.com)

(c) 2009 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

1 Responses »

  1. "A group of women in a town on the outskirts of Chicago is raising money for the work they do with people who cannot read, by putting out a book of favorite recipes of well-known people. Will I please contribute my favorite recipe."

    I love non-profit organizations. They're like golden retrievers, sloppy but they mean well.

    Some part of me believes they want Andy to be rude. It's what he's known for in part - being crotchety. It's part of why they like him. Nothing would make them happier than to receive correspondence from Andy Rooney containing a well worded put down.

    But, that requires he provide his services for free.