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Slices of Life: Sense of humor helpful when writing a column
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On occasion, I receive emails from readers requesting information about what it takes to write a column. Just how does one go about being a columnist?

Magic wand aside, there are numerous answers to the question, depending on the day. But I thought it might be convenient to put them all in one place. Or mostly one place: I may have left some of my notes on the piano.

Column-writing is serious business meant mostly for non-serious people especially if you are attempting to write humor. The ability to laugh at your own foibles, errors and general imperfection is practically essential. If you can't laugh at yourself, how are you going to get others to laugh at you?

That is why, when you do something stupid, you want to make sure you take notes so you can relay your foolishness to the rest of the world. I'm pretty good at getting myself involved in adventures that don't always turn out as planned. When this happens I can hardly wait to do what any inept person (aka columnist) would do: transcribe them for all of posterity. Perhaps some day even my great grandkids will know how laughable I was. One can only hope.

Columnists - and writers in general - feed off of ideas, or in technical terms, writing material. Without material, you have a blank page, and nobody wants to read a blank page. It's not even possible. Certain life situations enhance column-writing material, namely kids, pets and spouses. Who are the wackiest people and fuzzies you know? I'm guessing your family. Mine too. They give me some of the best family fodder around - for free.

Accessing information about your pets and next of kin is easy. Sharing it is not. You have to gauge where to start and more importantly where to stop or you'll become an information overloader. They don't call it TMI for nothing. You must navigate the tightrope between making an anecdote giggle-worthy for readers while not infuriating the people living at your house. This is especially true if you have teenagers, who are easily infuriated by their most embarrassing parents.

Writing about pets, on the other hand, is a no-brainer. To the best of my knowledge, mine can't read, so they have no way of determining when I share their hairball moments with the world. Members of my family, unfortunately, are not only literate but they read the newspaper. Luckily, they are forgiving and understand that I have an irrepressible need to document the zaniness that makes up our life. Plus I cook food for them on a daily basis and most of them really like to eat.

Being married to an understanding, yet comically inclined, significant other helps tremendously. It is also helpful if this other has a great sense of humor, is able to put up with slight bending of the truth and possesses medium or preferably thick skin. Mine has all these traits, plus he's a whiz with grammar and serves as my editor and proofreader so he's a boost to this column on many levels.

Speaking of grammar, it helps to be friends with the grammar police who will shoot you down and lock you up for the least of offenses. Again, it's helpful to have a spouse who understands that the effect of being apprehended for a grammar gaffe could affect my week in a negative way. I'm not going to lie (or is it lay?) my husband is (and has) a tremendous asset.

Grammar leads me to language usage. I love playing with words - to throw out terms like transcribe and posterity in a sentence and let them work their magic. Once I snuck the phrase "fish aficionado" into a sentence. That one was golden.

Finally, I guess one of the most important qualities of a columnist is to just be yourself. Don't hide. Don't fake it. I've never been good at hiding and I'm not sure I could fake it, even if I tried.

If I wasn't me, who then would I be? (Certainly not my cat, but don't tell him I said so.)

- Jill Pertler's column appears Thursdays in the Times. She can be reached at