About 52and39


The skinny:

52and39 is a blogging series featuring one post a week for a year.  All being well, at the end of the year I’ll have fifty two posts and be thirty nine years old.  52and39 will take stock of how a year passes by grabbing a few experiences and sticking a pin in them as context.

You can find posts in the 52and39 series here or by clicking the 52and39 logo anywhere on this site.

The story:

When I was a student journalist our news-writing tutor turned us out of college once a week to beat the streets of Aberdeen looking for stories.  He was a journalist of forty years experience who’d seen it all.  Luckily for our year, the college had finally succeeded in convincing him to come into the classroom and give us the benefit of his wholly un-academic experience. He told us he was only doing it because he was sick of being too cold outdoors and it was our turn now. And for the money. I liked his begrudging attitude and mismatched kind face instantly.

In his class we had no textbooks or course framework.  Instead, we each had shorthand notebooks, an ID badge and an area of the city to call our own – mine was the harbour, prom and beach links.  I soon learned to wear warm clothes. He had us pretend we were working for a local newspaper as junior reporters, hunting out words to fill imaginary column inches.  His brief was wide and deliberately obscure.  He spoke to us in a manner which suggested that he didn’t care whether we sank or swim in our efforts to gain our pass marks from him. He wanted at least two stories a week, 1.5 line spacing, decent margins and accurate notes about sources and street names.  ‘Don’t tell me what you think, tell me what I want to know, what you know and how you know it’, he’d say, week after week.

Before we hit the granite flanked streets he always delivered his instructions without eye contact – a wise move given his audience were all visibly terrified of not being up to the job.  It was the lack of eye contact that let me know he really did care.  It gave him away as someone who was preventing himself from empathising, lest it would shorten our reach or his command.  This realisation made his impact on me all the greater.  I knew him for a very brief time, yet, of all my tutors, he’s the one who said the least and taught the most.  His expectation that we would do what he asked and that we were ready for the job ahead was a leap of faith; an anchor placed in our futures amidst all the vague but much referenced ‘possibilities’ of further education and growing up.

The stinger:

Another thing my old tutor taught me was that there is no story that can’t be edited, then edited again, then edited again. So, 52 and 39 will also form a word count on each post.  No more than 91 words per week makes me work harder in the background about what goes on the page.  Ninety one words a week give me fresh eyes on my experiences and let me revisit my tutor and the young me who sent copy postcards every week from what I’d seen and learned.

The stakes:

There are no stakes other than I get a deadline and the joy of seeing it all come together. Grab a coffee, dip in and dip out. Think. Change the subject. Change the cushions. Join in. Comment. Enjoy.  Give it the fingers. Do the thing that makes you happy, I say.


Author: wordathlon

I'm Heather, I'm a writer and I live in Edinburgh. I like laughing, reflecting, getting lost in music, discovering great people, information and places. You can find me on Twitter @betamother or email me at wordathlon@gmail.com

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