Boy, did I love researching this article. So much that I ended up with 3000 words (the assignment was for 800), spent a lot of time cutting, and blew my deadline.* Here’s a hint when writing for magazines: If you know for sure that you won’t make a deadline, for heaven’s sake, tell your editor. Most magazines are on a very tight schedule, so don’t miss your deadline by more than a few days. But your editor will want to know when she can expect your work, so she can plan accordingly. Your best bet is always to get it in on time (or early!).
One of the advantages of working at a college is that I have lots of books at my disposal.** For this article, I took out tons of books, most of which were The Complete History of some technology or other. I tried to cover anything remotely related to texting, which I decided to define as sending a written message without a piece of paper changing hands. I learned about semaphore, the telegraph, the telephone, and the internet. You really can’t find all of this on the interwebz. Well, you can find it, but not in one place. Even my Complete Histories didn’t have everything–one was about the telegraph, one about phones, one about the internet, one about mobile technology. And they had lots of other information that I ended up not including. Another advantage of books is that they have all those fun facts and social implications, but not as random tidbits on the internet. The author has actually researched them. And will sometimes even point you to the original source.
The article had three different strands: just the facts, social implications, and funny stuff. Plus sidebars about how cell phones work and whether texting is really ruining the English language. The timeline stretched from 771 BCE to the present. I had tons of absolutely useless illustration notes. It was a complete mess. And Daniel Guidera took it all and made it into a funny, visually interesting, informative infographic. One reason I’m a writer is that I can’t draw, and I know zilch about layout. Luckily, there are artists and editors out there who do know that stuff, and they make my stuff look great.
*One of my favorite Douglas Adams quotes is, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Very funny. Are you Douglas Adams? Neither am I. Do not let the deadline whoosh by!
**Don’t work at a college? Most college libraries will allow you to peruse their books without taking them out. And many states’ interlibrary loan systems include public university and community college collections.