Michael Gallagher

Michael Gallagher

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It’s not often I compare myself to Robert Redford, but here it goes.

There is a scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” where Redford’s character is asked to prove his proficiency with firearms. Standing still, he fails to hit his target. He asks if he can move, and when he draws and shots he displays his superior marksmanship as well as his beautiful blondness, drop-dead smile and simmering sex appeal.

With some subtle differences (my teeth are nowhere near as straight), I’ve been a bit of a Redford the past week or so. In my case, it is hard for me to write if I can’t get outside for a walk every day.

Writing is weird. The physical act requires little exertion — the resistance can be increased on your keyboard but few notice, let alone comment on, the exquisite musculature of your finger tips.

But the words do not appear magically. There is some process that gets them from your head, to your hands and ultimately to the page. What goes into that is a secret few will share.

Without giving too much away, for me it involves walking each day. When I walk it not only gets my rapidly decaying body out of my office chair, but gives my mind the critical opportunity to think — to think of absolutely nothing.

Back in the day, I kidded myself that a walk would be good time for my brain resolve the problems of the world, or at least decide what to have for dinner that night. It turned out my brain had no interest in any of that. What my brain wanted was a break from being my brain.

If you think about it, your brain is trapped in your head, with few advisable ways to escape its confines. It goes with you everywhere and spends much of its energy futility attempting to forget the time you’ve spent watching “The Masked Singer.”

When I am walking, my mind flies high above me like a kite on a string. What it sees and experiences is its business. When I return to the office it shows its appreciation by paying attention to whatever task I consider important.

The catch, of course, is writing this off as a legitimate business expense. Basically a newspaper pays people to think about things. You think about a story idea, you think about questions, you think about the answers to the questions received, you think about how to relay that information in a way people can understand, if not enjoy. It’s a job, like riveting bolts, digging coal or throwing a 95 mph fastball on a 3-2 count in the ninth inning with the winning run on third base.

One of my first publishers put it bluntly when he told me, “I’m not paying you to ‘be in the mood’ to write. I am paying you to write.”

In other words, never bring up all the squishy stuff writers claim goes into writing. Even people in the business get nervous about this. Many years ago I was on a conference call with fellow managing editors in the chain formerly known as Pioneer (at the time I was on one of my temporary tours of duty as managing editor). One of my compatriots said he was implementing a work efficiency study. He was asking his reporters to write down what they were doing at 15-minute intervals throughout the course of the day.

After everyone spoke up in praise of the idea, I said, “If I did that, every 15 minutes I would write down that I was wasting my time filling out an every 15-minute survey.”

Needless to say, this efficiency effort was never implemented at the Daily Record.

The idea that to do your job you need to spend a percentage of your day woolgathering, is not going to find its way into the corporate employee handbook.

But all I know is once this air clears, so will my head and once there’s nothing in it I’ll really be able to get stuff done.

Contact managing editor Michael Gallagher at mgallagher@kvnews.com.


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