I said that out loud, didn’t I?

Several years ago, when I was first starting out as a professional writer, I received the opportunity to work for a couple of monthly science magazines published by the American Chemical Society. Eager to impress and excited at the thought of seeing my name bylined, I dove into every project with relish…and apparently very little forethought.

A regular ritual at the magazines was for the entire editorial staff to sit down every couple of weeks and hammer out the best headlines for each of the next issue’s articles. Rather than leave the job to the individual writers, my Editor felt this was the best way to get the best ideas. In principle, I agree with him, although you also have to be wary of sliding into group-think, where the lowest common denominator wins…but I digress.

In the first such meeting in which I was invited to participate—second week on the job—we were trying to come up with a title for the health article, which discussed the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia and the fact that many women with the infection didn’t know they had it. After listening to a couple really boring titles, I decided to show how clever and punny I was, and chose to riff off the title of a movie that was popular at the time.

Chlamydia. A quiet killer. It was obvious.

Silence of the Clams!

Silence of the editorial meeting, more like. My Editor looked at mean, turned his head sideways, and said “You’re serious.”

Oh, oh. Something’s gone wrong. Something doesn’t make sense. Why is everyone looking at me like that? Why is…? Oh, shit.

Luckily, everyone in the office thought it was funny, probably more because of the look on my face rather than any inherent amusement. But that’s the point. I kept the job and wrote much better headlines—or at least more acceptable ones—for several more years.

Since that day, I have instituted (if only for myself) what I call “the 12-year-old boy rule”.

Basically, if you want to print anything, you should always say it out loud in front of a 12-year-old boy, and if he even so much as smirks, there is something salacious in your idea and you really need to rethink it.

Still, every once in a while, I wonder if I couldn’t make that title work (other than for porn).

And of course, I am still addicted to puns, much to the chagrin of most people who know me.

Write, write a song

If dictionaries defined phrases and you looked up “glutton for punishment” or “own worst enemy”, I have every confidence you would find a definition along the lines of:

(n) 1. An individual who endeavours to accomplish novel projects through the use of methods for which he or she has no training, expertise and in all likelihood, aptitude. 2. This guy.

It would then show a photo of me, both definitions being equal appropriate.

Image

As if it wasn’t daunting enough to try to write a screenplay for an animated feature-length family film, I decided it should include songs (a la Lion King or Aladdin) and then went one audacious step further to decide that I should write those songs.

I have no musical training. I don’t know anything about song writing. Heck, the only training I have as a singer involved a record player and a ruler-cum-microphone. (Note to self: Just because you can’t hear you when you wear headphones doesn’t mean that no one can hear you when you wear headphones.)

Tonight, I finally decided to sit down and write the five songs for the movie (and truthfully, that’s only because I’m procrastinating on a rewrite of a scene I hate but do not know how to fix).

The good news is I know what I want each song to cover and roughly the tone I want to establish with it. The bad news is all that stuff I talked about above.

The first song was relatively straightforward as it is a parody of an existing tune. Keep the cadence, change the words. Play the music in the background and try to sing it aloud. Not yet perfect, but it’s a start.

But now, the completely novel songs. Oh boy.

Do I have a cadence?

Why did I pick that word to try to rhyme four times?

Okay, I think I should try to change the tempo here.

Crap! Where’s my chorus?

Is it okay to switch from something Disney-esque to The Pogues?

Oops, can’t use that word…there’ll be kids in the audience.

Why, oh why, do I do these things to myself?