Every few months, your editor, Max Hensley, reminds me it is time for a new article. And every few months, I must dream up something new to write about.
That would be easy if I simply wrote about railroad certificates. After all, I get to see highly interesting and unique certificates all the time. Those new certificates keep my pursuit fresh. While new discoveries have tapered off, sudden bursts of long-hidden certificates come to light every once in a while and re-light the fire that drives me on.
I love that fire. I relish the challenge of sharing that fire with you. In fact, it is the sharing that is the real payoff. If I wished to ever accomplish anything with my writing, it would be to convince you that the most enjoyable, most fulfilling part of this hobby is the sharing.
Yes, it is satisfying to know I have compiled descriptions of over 29,000 railroad certificates, But that is merely a testimonial to sticking with a single endeavor for so long. The greater achievement is sharing a passion with like-minded people across North America and Europe. What a tremendous honor!
This time, I wanted to take time to convince you that YOU can experience that same pleasure.
The task is really quite simple and boils down to a single word: share. Share your hobby with us. Share a story. Share a discovery. Share an experience. Share an accomplishment. Share a viewpoint.
In short, share something about the hobby that brings you pleasure.
How can you share that something? By telling us about it right here, right in the pages of this magazine. I will stress, with utmost assurance, that if something interests you, it interests others.
There is no need to waste time objecting. Max and I could fill up this page and others with all the objections we’ve heard. “I can’t write.” “I don’t have anything to say.” “Nobody is interested in this subject.” “I don’t have anything special to say.” “My pursuit is too narrow.” Blah, blah, blah.
You may not believe it, but your voice is crucial to the longevity of this magazine. Readers want to hear your voice. They want to hear about what excites you.
How do you go about the task of writing? How about trying a little trick?
Start by scribbling down your thoughts, one thought per line. Avoid over-thinking. Just write down five or ten thoughts and then put your notes away. As simple as it may sounds, that simple process is actually the single biggest step to writing – starting.
Come back a day or two later and add one or two supporting sub-thoughts to each of your previous lines. If one of you earlier thoughts does not deserve elaboration, dump it. It was not sufficiently important. Again, do not over-think. Get your ideas out and stop again.
At this stage, you will have fifteen to thirty formative concepts, more than enough to serve as vertebrae for a magazine article. Your writing will be nothing more than sentences and sentence fragments, but that’s okay. You’re finished with the thinking part.
Next, compile some photos or scans to support your article. If you want guidance on scanning, go to https://www.coxrail.com/scanning/Scan-home.asp for lots more information. Even if you don’t end up using all your images in your article, they will serve as focal points for your next step.
Three or four days later, when no one else is around, read your collection of sentences out loud. I am serious. OUT LOUD! And yes, you will feel stupid the first time you do this! However, as soon as you hear your sentences spoken, you will know how to re-write them to make them sound sensible. Believe it or not, the two best-kept secrets to writing are 1) putting time between thinking and editing, and 2) reading your work out aloud. By letting your ears guide your writing, you cannot help but inject life into dry, sterile, dead text. At this stage it is common to shuffle and re-order thoughts and sub-thoughts to build a better story. Never assume you have written something correctly the first time.
Repeat your reading/writing as often as you like. You might change and improve your text twenty or thirty times. That’s fine. Just don’t get impatient. Good writing takes time.
At this point, IF you still feel your effort is inadequate, send it into Scripophily as it stands. (Email address on page 1.) Someone will pull out the scalpels and sutures and reassemble your article into something you will be proud to have your name on. Don’t feel bad about taking this approach. After all, editors always need something to edit.
Some time later, you will open a future edition of Scripophily and see your first article in print. Your heart will skip a bit. You will flip to your article and read it for the first time. Your thoughts will seem familiar but different, even if every word is original. It will seem like someone else’s words. (You will see things you could have said differently. That is natural and unavoidable. Get over it!)
As you finish, you will join me in the pleasure of having shared knowledge about this wonderful hobby. Finally, you will close your eyes and enjoy laughing to yourself, “What was so hard about that?” And then, “Oooh! I should write about ...”