Authors (clockwise from top left) Mark Twain, Susan Sontag, Charles Dickens and Joan Didion all got their start in journalism. Maybe you will too? Credit: Wikipedia

Along with the winter solstice come annual new year’s resolutions, a tradition said to be thousands of years old.

The most popular resolutions are exercise more, lose weight and get organized. These are all fine and worthy goals. But I have another – more demanding perhaps but arguably more valuable: consider writing for the RoundTable.

In most daily RoundTable newsletters we include the following encouragement: “Join our team: The Evanston RoundTable is growing! Check out our jobs page for opportunities in editorial.”

Why would you, dear reader, want to write for our news site? Two reasons.

1. Serve your community. It has been said that “Evanston is heavenston,” a phrase sometimes attributed to Frances Willard, although A Brief History of Evanston says it derives from the city’s historically “strong Methodist influence.”

If so, we need to work to maintain and strengthen our celestial status, because even heaven has its problems. In the afterlife, said Nietzsche, all the interesting people are missing – reason enough to work for its improvement.

More locally, there are the problems we see and write about all the time: the long history of racism, the challenge of fixing critical issues like homelessness, the city’s huge disparities in wealth, etc.

But that’s the same everywhere. Even Thomas More’s Utopia wasn’t fun – and if you believe Hilary Mantel, neither was he.

So how to make Evanston more heavenston?

Loving the city as you do (an assumption I make given your status as a regular RoundTable reader), you’ll want to do more than visit our news site and familiarize yourself with the city’s fascinating people and places and its continuing problems.

You’ll want to help! And what better way to do that than to dive in, do the research and write stories about our city and its people. Along the way, you may win an award or two. The RoundTable won 48 of them in the most recent Northern Illinois Newspaper Association honors.

Of course, not everyone is qualified to be a news writer. But if you’re handy with our native language and curious about facets of life in our great city, why not give it a try?

2. Serve yourself. In addition, the effort may yield an ancillary benefit of some import: an interest in writing for yourself. Few things are as intellectually stimulating and rewarding as writing.

As I’ve argued before, the effort to research and write a memoir has enormous value for one’s family and self-discovery. I concluded a March 2021 RoundTable column saying, “The act of writing can make you a better person, and anyone can do it. What a gift to yourself.”

The Booker Prize-winning writer and MacArthur Fellow George Saunders agrees. In an email exchange last year, he wrote me, “What I’ve observed is that working through a piece of fiction or maybe any kind of writing has the potential to wake up what Hemingway called our ‘[BS] detectors.’ We start to notice how lies look, in language. Or even slight mis-seeings. And we learn that we can ‘revise our way’ toward truth, or, as I say in the book [A Swim in a Pond in the Rain], ‘the actual.’”

He concluded his email, “I think, as long as this process is enacted with some humor and humility, it’s good.”

And who knows, you may find your keyboard hastens you along the road to fame and riches. Many world-class authors spent their early writing years in journalism, including Charles Dickens (who started at the Mirror of Parliament), Mark Twain (Missouri Courier), Ernest Hemingway (Kansas City Star), Joan Didion (Mademoiselle), Carl Hiaasen (Miami Herald), Susan Sontag (Chicago Review) and Michael Connelly (Los Angeles Times).

So give it a shot. Join our award-winning news team, hone a critical skill, be a better person and contribute to your community.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently four consecutive Northern...

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