March 11, 2020

NGUYEN | The Columnist Manifesto

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I want to start this column off with an apology. Typically when I tap away at my keyboard scrambling to finish another jumble of bi-weekly thoughts, I try to put some consideration into my writing. At the bare minimum, I think about you, the reader — the topics you might want to skim over, the current events you might find most salient, the on-campus trends that impact you.

This time though, I’m being selfish. This column is purely for me.

My last column was published over a month ago. Which basically translates to: It’s been a delightful month of dreadful, agonizing, torturous writer’s block. A month filled with that all-too-familiar, mindlessly-staring-at-a-blank-Google-Doc routine. You know, the one where I glare at an empty screen for hours on end, all in a futile attempt to throw together a meaningful hodgepodge of thoughts. Sound familiar? Yeah, I’ve become an expert at that.

So there I was — a day before this column was due — practicing that same aimless Google-Doc-staring face-off in Cafe Jennie, waiting for inspiration to strike. I sat tight, let the anticipation wash over me, channeled all the patience my body could muster. Then, finally, as I was about to surrender, it came.

(That’s what she said.)

My epiphany: I’m gonna write the column of columns! A meta-column! A column about my utter, unadulterated hatred for these brain dumps that I put out for the world to read every two weeks.

— Rewind to summer. —

I applied to be a columnist on a pure whim. Somehow, I miraculously (miserably, in retrospect) stumbled onto The Sun’s opinion columnist application — a grueling beast of a questionnaire. Every applicant can agree that this document is a rigorous, back-breaking trial that’ll push your writing to its limit. But clearly, I hate myself because I somehow dredged up the willpower to complete and submit the application.

— Fast forward a week. —

I’m drunk as hell in my friend’s backyard, lounging in an emptied-out kiddie pool when a Gmail push notification disrupts my inebriation: “Welcome to Opinion!” My initial reaction was sheer shock. And then, possibly, the slightest glimmer of pride? Nevertheless, any trace of positivity was instantly shot down as I started to consider the implications of what being a columnist entailed. This wasn’t just a congratulatory email; this was a disciplinary sentence. I came to the sobering conclusion that I was binding myself to a never-ending cycle of battling writer’s block and trashing abysmal Google Doc drafts.

To add insult to injury, as I continued to scroll down the email, my eyes landed on the most terrifying words of the English language: “The Sun tragically does not use Oxford commas. If you put them in, we will take them out.”

Hell. No.

— Fast forward to now. —

I’ve been writing opinion columns for over a semester now.

And since accepting the offer to join the opinion team, I’ve somehow found myself completely immersed in The Sun. I love it! The Sun shines bright: It’s exposed me to an array of some of the most passionate, driven, intelligent, good people I’ve ever interacted with. And I feel immensely grateful to consider myself a member of this community that never fails to inspire me.

Yet, my qualms with column writing still persist: The writer’s block, the procrastination, the pressure, my sheer inability to slap words onto a page in a non-stressful manner.

The thing is, being a columnist can suck sometimes. As I stare blankly at a fresh document, fingertips dangling over my keyboard in anticipation, it’s impossible not to feel the pressure of composing an articulate, weighty article. How do I achieve the perfect “warm take” — a topic “hot” enough to get clicks, but “cold” enough to avoid garnering a wave of backlash? Which argument will best stand up to the ruthless Sun Facebookers who frequently tear my columns apart? (Hi, by the way! Excited to see how you’ll strike this time.)

But then again, there’s no one else I can push the blame onto — it’s all on me. My fellow columnists and editors, you guys are doing a stunning job putting out meaningful, campus-defining content. The Sun, you’re glowing brilliantly as ever. But Niko Nguyen, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to “top” your last column. Stop self-sabotaging, waiting until the very last minute to start your next piece. Stop dismissing your work as unimportant and irrelevant — the “my column this week is ASS” needs to end. Because, you know what, even if it is, at least you wrote a column spicy enough to get roasted on Facebook.

 

Niko Nguyen is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at nnguyen@cornell.edu. Unfiltered runs alternate Thursdays this semester.