I live in a rural area. I wear masks. I thought I was being careful. I still got COVID.

By Kathryn Jones

It began week before last with a sneeze. Post-nasal drip irritating the back of my throat. Allergies, I told myself. The mountain cedar is blooming. A cold front blew in. A lot of pollen is swirling in the air.

The next day my sinuses hurt. I had a dull headache. I felt a bit warm and took my temperature – 99.2. Mild sinus infection, I told myself.

Then I lost my senses of smell and taste. It wasn’t gradual. They were just gone.

That concerned me because I’d read several articles where COVID patients talked about not being able to smell or taste anything. Still, that wasn’t unusual. Sometimes when I get a seasonal sinus infection, I get so congested that I can’t taste. But not for two days, which turned to three, then four.

A friend and I had lunch in mid-October and ate outside at a restaurant on Lake Granbury. A week later, she was sick with COVID. Could we have gotten it there? We’ll never really know for sure.

Still, I rationalized that it was unlikely I had it. My husband, Dan, and I live on a remote piece of property in Bosque County. We’re a mile-and-a-half off the highway, down a twisting, hilly gravel road. His parents, who are in their late 80s, live just down the road. The number of cases in our area is relatively low – a little over 200 Bosque County residents tested positive as of Oct. 30.

Last Thursday, I decided to get tested. I didn’t want to put my husband or my in-laws at risk. I went to the closest town with a medical center, Glen Rose, in adjacent Somervell County. As of Oct. 30, the county has reported 250 total coronavirus cases. Glen Rose Medical Center has set up a “sick clinic” where the testing takes place.

After making an appointment, I arrived, parked in the lot, and called to alert a nurse I was there. She opened the door and motioned me inside. All the medical workers were clothed in head-to-toe protective gear.

She asked questions about my symptoms and took my vitals. I didn’t have any fever. The nurse suggested I stand against the wall for the swab test. “Whatever you do, don’t grab my arm,” she said.

She was quick, inserting the rigid swab far up each nostril into what felt like my brain. My toes curled inside my boots. It was very uncomfortable, but fast.

Afterward, she gave me a tissue in case my nose bled, which it did. “If you’re positive, we’ll call you today,” she said.

Later that afternoon, my cell phone rang. It was the nurse.

“You tested positive,” she said.

I don’t know why, but I was shocked.

Because I had mild symptoms, the clinic didn’t prescribe any medications and suggested I keep taking the over-the-counter sinus and headache meds I’d been using.

“Call us if you have any breathing problems,” the nurse said.

It’s Day Six. I’m still congested and have a weird metallic taste in my mouth and tingling around my lips. I still cannot smell or taste anything, not even Texas barbecue. I have no desire to eat, although I’ve been making myself for strength and nourishment. I’ve lost six pounds in one week. So far, though, I can breathe just fine.

What concerns me, however, is when I drive to nearby towns and see many residents behaving as if COVID doesn’t exist. People were standing in groups close together in front of a church getting ready for its annual fall festival. No one was wearing masks. Some businesses that post signs on their doors stating that masks are required don’t enforce the rule; even employees often don’t wear masks.

Meanwhile, COVID cases in the United States are approaching 100,000 a day as I write this. New coronavirus infections hit a record high in rural counties from Oct. 18 through 24, the fifth week in a row, reported The Daily Yonder, which has been tracking rural coronavirus outbreaks week by week.

In releasing the latest statistics about cases, Glen Rose Medical Center encouraged residents to take precautions.

“Isolated cases of COVID appeared to be the result of incidental contact amongst people in our community,” the medical center reported on Oct. 30. “This type of spread will be exceedingly difficult to control if we cannot get people to be compliant with wearing masks when they are in contact with other people.”

The center repeated its previous advice that wearing a mask can prevent people from spreading the virus unknowingly.

“It is very common that people are contagious for anywhere from one to three days prior to becoming “sick,” the post read. “It is during that time that mask wearing can help protect other people in our community.”

This line in the release should have been boldfaced: “There is significant evidence that mask wearing in our community is near, or at, the lowest level that it is been since the beginning of this pandemic.” Wow.

Whether it’s COVID fatigue or denial, many people are letting their guard down. I let mine down by having lunch with a friend because I thought it was “safe” to eat outside.

With cold weather on the way and more people confined to the indoors, COVID cases likely will continue increasing, experts warn. But I hear so many people dismissing those warnings. Conspiracy theories abound on the Internet.

They may not listen to me, either. But I’m also the face of COVID. I thought I was at low risk because of where I lived. I wore masks. I sanitized my hands and even wore gloves sometimes. I washed my hands for 20 seconds after taking off my gloves. I avoided crowds. I shopped online and got curbside grocery service. I still got COVID.

Thankfully, right now it looks like a mild case, but I don’t know what the future will hold. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried.

Assume others, even friends and family members, have the virus. Don’t be afraid to hurt their feelings and not hug. Explain you want to protect them. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Don’t let down your guard, even if you think you live in a relatively “safe” area.

I’m posting a daily coronavirus journal on my Facebook page. I hope sharing my daily experiences will keep people informed and, hopefully, prevent someone else from contracting the disease. If I can get it, anyone can.

Kathryn Jones is a longtime journalist, former editor of the Glen Rose Reporter and co-director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism.

 

TCCJ Online Revenue Workshop Program

TCCJ Revenue Workshop: Making Money in the “New Normal”

9 a.m.

Welcome and introductions

Kathryn Jones and Dan Malone

TCCJ Co-directors, live from the Texan News broadcast studio at

Tarleton State University in Stephenville

 

“Re-Igniting the Post-Covid Sales Conversation With Advertisers” 

Ryan Dohrn

Media sales consultant/ad coach and host of “Ad Sales Nation” podcast

COVID-19 was devastating for most local and regional business owners.  So, how do we as sales pros sympathize, but get back to that much-needed marketing conversation?  Media sales coach Ryan Dohrn will share 7 ways to re-ignite the conversation with style, ideas, and realistic expectations.  From handling objections like COVID has killed our business to the objection of I am too busy now to explaining the “marketing bump” to email templates to perfect post-COVID prospecting times to revised pricing options.  Come prepared to laugh and learn from a media sales pro that still sells today and has touched over half a billion dollars in ad sales over his 30-year career.

10 a.m.

“New Strategies for a New Time”

Kevin James

Director of Special Projects Sales

Moser Community Media, LLC (Brenham)

Kevin will share “out of the box” success stories during this “new normal.” He describes himself as a “positive, upbeat, ‘make lemons out of lemonade’ kind of salesperson and leader,” so Kevin’s presentation will focus on creative ways to engage customers and make deals at a time when so many traditional advertisers face economic challenges themselves.

11 a.m.

“The New Normal of Selling”

Mike Obert

Managing Partner – Sales

Open-Look.com, Richardson, Texas

When so many people are working remotely, traditional workdays are upside down. For sales people, that means having a fluid schedule throughout the day to work in your hours of prospecting and maintaining existing clients. It also means looking for new means to reach readers on behalf of advertisers. Mike will discuss how to use video and leverage social media in the new normal of selling.

Noon

“A Year for the Record Books – What’s Working? What’s Not?”

Moderated by Dan Malone and Kathryn Jones

TCCJ Co-directors

The pandemic and statewide lockdown of businesses crashed local economies and put intense new pressures on community journalism outlets and their bottom lines. Newspapers saw website traffic increase, but traditional ad sales plummet. Some were able to secure federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, but that money ran out fast. Some were able to get new grants offered by Facebook and other sources. Some had to cut frequency of print publication. Many had to scramble and find creative ways to survive. Attendees are invited to share their stories about what worked, what did not, and how their business models are changing.

Speaker Biographies

Ryan Dohrn

Ryan is the founder of media sales strategy firm Brain Swell Media and the creator of the 360 Ad Sales System taught to over 20,000 media sales professionals in 7 countries. Ryan works with over 200 newspapers per year and has a deep passion for the community newspaper business. Ryan’s 30-year media sales and marketing career includes leadership roles at PennWell Publishing, Morris Publishing, Disney/ABC TV and The NY Times Company. He is an Emmy Award winner, business book author and has been featured in USA Today and on Forbes.com.

 

Kevin James

Hailing from Greenville, Texas, the son of a newspaper pressman and a mother who faithfully read her hometown newspaper daily, Kevin has printer’s ink flowing in his veins. He joined MCM in January 2014 as Director of Special Projects, Digital, and Sales Training, and heads up a groupwide VIP initiative.

Although Kevin was heavily involved in his elementary, junior high and high school newspapers, he began his “official” newspaper career as a retail sales rep with the Rockwall Texas Journal-Success in 1993.

In 1997, Kevin was recruited to an advertising account executive opportunity with The Dallas Morning News, working print and digital advertising and focusing on the travel and tourism, real estate, faith-based accounts and automotive segments. After marrying an “Okie,” in 2003 he accepted a position with The Daily Oklahoman/NewsOK.com in Oklahoma City as a digital advertising specialist, developing their first-ever million-dollar digital sales territory.

Moving to Austin 2010 for personal/family reasons, Kevin accepted a multi-media executive position with Cox Media Group/ The Austin American-Statesman where he earned several awards and honors. In 2012 he was recruited to rebuild a major and key accounts territory with Hearst Media/San Antonio Express-News.

In 2013, Kevin was recruited by Stephens Media Corporate Division in Las Vegas, Nevada, as a digital sales consultant/catalyst for their training and sales efforts for their papers nationwide. Kevin worked with such papers as The Las Vegas Review Journal; The Daily World in Aberdeen, Washington; The Sherman Herald-Democrat in Sherman, Texas; The Examiner-Enterprise in Bartlesville, OK; and the Ashboro Courier-Tribune in Ashboro, North Carolina.

Kevin also has served as advertising directors for two local Texas papers – his hometown newspaper, The Greenville Herald Banner (2001), and The Williamson County Sun in Georgetown (2011-2012).

 Mike Obert

Mike began his publishing career in 1992 and has specialized in monetizing magazines through ad sales, distribution and other creative revenue streams. In 2009, Mike began developing offshore publishing solutions for a US-based niche media company out of the Philippines. In three short years, Mike noticed a void in the industry and lack of reliable outsourced options for all publishers, which ignited the vision to create Open Look.

In 2012, Mike and partners formed Open Look, turning void into opportunity. Two years later, Mike created a neighborhood network of community publications that is directly mailed and driven by ad sales. Currently, Mike drives the direction and innovation of Open Look, ensuring the services remain valuable and relevant for the ever-evolving niche media industry.

 

Virtual Summer Revenue Workshop, Aug. 14

The annual Summer Revenue Workshop conducted by the Texas Center for Community Journalism has been moved to a virtual format for Friday, Aug. 14. It will no longer be held in person at the Hangar Hotel Conference Center in Fredericksburg due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout Texas. However, we’re planning an excellent workshop that you can tune into online. It also will be recorded and archived on the TCCJ website.

This year’s timely theme is “Making Money in the ‘New Normal.’”

As businesses reopen, it’s time to get back to sales conversations. But when so many people are working remotely, their days are upside down. The pandemic and statewide lockdown of businesses crashed local economies and put intense new pressures on community journalism outlets and their bottom lines. Newspapers saw website traffic increase, but traditional ad sales plummet. Some were able to secure federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, that money ran out fast. Some were able to get new grants offered by Facebook and other sources. Some had to cut frequency of print publication. Many had to scramble and find creative ways to survive.

To address these concerns, the line-up of speakers will include Kevin James, director of Special Projects Sales, Moser Community Media, LLC (Brenham); Mike Obert of Open-Look.com in Richardson; and via Skype, Ryan Dohrn, media sales consultant/coach and host of “Ad Sales Nation” podcast. They and TCCJ Co-directors Dan Malone and Kathryn Jones Malone will share insights and advice on new strategies for selling in the “new normal,” latest trends in digital traffic and online ad sales;  social media vs. digital revenues, and alternative sources of revenue.

The workshop will end with an open discussion about some of the creative products and strategies Texas newspapers and their websites have used in this extraordinary time of change. Please share what you’ve tried that worked, what didn’t, and how business models are changing. We can all learn from each other. Email Kathryn front or inside pages, advertising, promotions or links to pages: kathrynjones1956@gmail.com.

Details:

WHERE: We’re looking at video conferencing options.

WHEN:  Friday, Aug. 14; times TBA

COST:  FREE. Just fill out the registration form below so we can send you information about the workshop and how to sign on.

REGISTER HERE: Please fill out the registration form. If more than one person from a news organization plans to attend, please register individually.

Virtual Summer Revenue Workshop, Friday, Aug. 14

Virtual Summer Revenue Workshop, Friday, Aug. 14

Sending

 

TCCJ is moving, but our mission to support Texas community newspapers continues

You’d think that on my last day at TCCJ, I would be contemplating some great quotation on press freedom by Thomas Jefferson.

Not even close.  Instead, I can’t get one of Dr. Seuss’ best-known lines out of my head: “Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.”

To be sure, there’s so much about the work of the Center that I will miss – especially my interactions with the best group of community newspaper people in the United States.  These last 20 years of interactions with Texas journalists have certainly enriched my life. And it’s especially gratifying to see folk who came to us two decades ago with the ink barely dry on their degrees who have now taken places of leadership at Texas newspapers.

TCCJ was founded as an investment in people.  It was a partnership of the Texas Newspaper Foundation and TCU with the goal of investing in the mid-career training of journalists.

Our strategy was to conduct meaningful, practical training sessions in an atmosphere of laughter and fun, and to do it in a way that honored newspeople as professionals. And I believe we succeeded.

Texas newspapers are in the only institutions in their communities that exist to inform citizens and make sure the public’s business is done in public.  We’re the only ones providing an open marketplace of opinion and often speaking truth to power. If we weren’t there, there are no backup institutions to fill that community need.

And as important as newspapers are, they are no stronger than the professionals who work there, people who do what they do because they love their work and are passionate about news.

I am excited that even though I am retiring, the work of the Center will go on under the capable leadership of Dan Malone and Kathryn Jones at Tarleton State University. These two are consummate professionals who love this business and the people who make it work. Please support them, and let’s make sure that TCCJ’s best days are yet to come.

And despite Dr. Seuss’ advice, I have shed a few tears because it’s over.  But I’m smiling now because I have so many wonderful friends in Texas journalism and because I’m so happy that TCCJ will continue to fulfill its mission.

Happy trails….

Can school board use OMA update as justification for restricting public comments?

Question: My school district is claiming that it’s restricting public comment to agenda items due to the recent law (they were previously allowing any comments). This seems like a gross misrepresentation of a change designed to guarantee a right rather than restrict it. Is my understanding correct?

Answer: Looks like your school district is reading the update to the Open Meetings Act in a very literal way that undermines the purpose of the revision in the 2019 legislative session.

We’re talking about HB 2840, which requires government bodies to allow people to comment on agenda items. Yes, the purpose of that was to allow more comments, not fewer, but another section of the revision says the government “may adopt reasonable rules regarding the public’s right to address the body … including rules that limit the total amount of time that a member of the public may address the body on a given item.” The intent of that was to keep the public from wasting time or basically shutting down a session by talking endlessly – not to eliminate public comment time outside of agenda items altogether.

Here’s the bill text: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/86R/billtext/html/HB02840S.htm

I’d read that to mean that “people may not speak on anything but agenda items” (as your school district seems to be doing) is not a “reasonable rule” under the law. That would at least be up for interpretation by the AG, and may be worth challenging the ISD on. The Texas Municipal League reads the bill as permitting but not requiring government bodies to allow open comment, as long as the body isn’t restricting public criticism of the body (another passage in the OMA revision). Read this from TML counsel Zindia Thomas, who I respect on open records/meetings matters as acting in good faith on interpreting these things, rather than being reflexively defensive of her organization’s members: https://www.tml.org/DocumentCenter/View/1237/HB-2840-Public-Comment-on-Agenda-Items

In short, I’d suggest asking your school district to return to allowing an open comment session on non-agenda items, arguing that dismissing public comment altogether is not a “reasonable rule” under the HB 2840 revisions. It may at least be worth seeing if the AG would issue a letter opinion on it. It may also be a call to the AG hotline on open meetings, 512-478-6736.

Reflections after a decade in community journalism: It isn’t supposed to be easy

I am entering my second decade at the helm of the Whitesboro News-Record.

Granted, I’ve left a few brief times and come back, but all roads have led us back here.  This January will mark the 11th anniversary of my first being named the editor and a lot has changed for me in that time.

We have one more child than we did back then and the twin babies we had back then aren’t babies anymore.

I managed to earn a master’s degree along the way.

We were able to buy a house.

I am the only face in this office that was here when I first started more than 10 years ago.

Time marches on.

I thumb through the archives each week and see the faces of people we’ve lost over the past 10 years. I was blessed to have known them all.

I think ahead another 10 years and choke up at the number of beloved community members we hold dear today who won’t be there with us then.

The community newspaper does a few things: We report on births. We report on graduations. We report on marriages. We report on deaths. We report on all the highlights in a person’s life. We tell the stories of the people with whom we share our corner of the planet.

We do all these things together with you. We live, love, grieve and grow together, as a community.

It is these connections that keep me in this business.

It is these relationships I hold so dear. Life is short and we must cherish each other.

I was reminded of this last Wednesday when the police scanner reported a seven-car accident on Hwy. 377.

It was pouring rain and we hadn’t gone to print yet. I knew what I needed to do.

I’ve covered too many of these scenes, but never one quite like this. It was dark, and wet, and cold. There was wreckage everywhere and I couldn’t make sense of it.

Over the years I’ve developed a habit when walking onto an accident scene where I know someone has lost their life.

I find a first responder I know well— a familiar face— and I ask, “Is it anyone we know?”

Too often, it is.

This is where the lines of objectivity in responsible journalism can get skewed by emotion.

And this was the case last week. There was a man declared dead as a result of this massive pile-up. I found out later I knew him.

Albeit, years ago, but I knew him.

He was a high school boss. I hauled hay for him and fed his cows on occasion.

I even once sold him a piece of furniture I had built.

It’s times like these covering the news in your community hits home.

It’s certainly not the first time it’s happened either.

As community journalists, we sometimes must report events that are the absolute low points in someone’s life. And it is often people we know.

I hesitate to offer examples about each and every one of these experiences in the course of my career— in the spirit of not reliving them, but they are plentiful and they are hard to deal with.

This job can leave you feeling physically beaten at the end of a day.

The degree of tragedy in which you encountered with a given story can correlate to this beating.

I have been left feeling like I’ve literally been kicked in the gut more than once.

Maybe I internalize the pain of others too much. Maybe I feel guilty about having to make news of their sorrow.

Maybe I wish all news was good news.

Last Wednesday was one of these times.

After we put the paper to bed that night, I couldn’t rest my thoughts.

I took pen to notebook and jotted down a few words:

“And just like that, the emergency scanner goes off. Seven car pile-up on the highway. At least one deceased. Calling for the jaws of life. Not enough ambulances available. Bystanders pitching in. Performing CPR. And the community newspaper is there to document it all. The hard work of heroes and the sorrow of families. Seven lives changed forever and at least one life ended. I’ve been doing this a long time and it will never be easy.”

That last sentence got me.

“Will this ever be easy?” I asked myself.

Almost immediately I answered myself, “It can’t be easy. I can’t let it become easy.”

The day this becomes easy is the day I’ve lost empathy for people in times of sorrow. The day we lose empathy is the day we need to be doing something else. We can’t serve our communities properly without proper empathy.

No matter your line of work, no matter your passion — we all have an effect on the people we serve. Our community. Our tribe.

No matter your work, you serve. We were put here to serve others.

The day we lose our empathy is the day we cease to serve.

Don’t lose your empathy. Service is not supposed to be easy.

 

Great ideas for engaging with your community

In explaining my work, I sometimes say that there are thousands of really good journalists in rural America, but all too often they are the only person in their newsroom that fits that description. They suffer from the isolation of rurality, with fewer opportunities than urbanites to rub shoulders and exchange ideas with their professional peers.

That observation applies to independent rural publishers, too. They may attend state newspaper meetings, but there’s nothing like the National Newspaper Association convention, where editors and publishers from New England, the North Woods, the Great Plains, the Corn Belt, the Deep South, the Intermountain West, the Pacific Coast and other regions exchange ideas. That’s especially important for the approximately one-third of weekly newspapers not owned by groups, which can be sources of ideas (and instruction). Get them together, and the love to help each other.

This was on display at the Great Ideas Exchange at the National Newspaper Association’s annual convention in Milwaukee Oct. 3. There were too many ideas to share in this limited space, but here are some themes and standouts:

Engagement with the audience is a key task these days, and some circulation ideas at the session were good examples. The Lancaster News in South Carolina delivers to funeral homes 10 copies of the paper for distribution to families and friends who want a copy of an obituary. With a sponsor, the copies count as paid circulation.

The paper also gives all its yearly subscribers a page of coupons (usually $5 each) worth a total of $25, and is trying to get to $50, the price of a one-year-subscription, Publisher Susan Rowell said. The promotion has converted a lot of sox-month subscribers, and “You do something for your loyal customers just to keep ‘em,” she said.

Effective engagement means taking every opportunity to build loyalty, and that includes people in the newsroom.

The North Scott Press of Eldridge, Iowa, asks subjects of its stories, “Where do you read the paper?” That indirect approach is better than asking if they subscribe or buy it regularly. If their answer indicates that they don’t, the next question is “Would you like to receive it at home?” and offer a three-month free trial, Publisher Bill Tubbs says. The staffer making the contact gets $3 for a free trial and $7 for a paid subscription.

Many newspapers have made magazines and directories good revenue sources. The Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, produces a Churches of Douglas County magazine every other year, charges $50 for a listing and gives each church 10 copies. Some papers provide membership lists that the paper uses to solicit sponsorships, Publisher Jody Hanson said. “It’s a really good reference guide,” she said, adding that some churches initially declined to participate, but now say “Don’t ever do it without us.”

The Echo Press also hires a Santa Claus for three hours after school, asks parents to bring a food item to donate to the needy, takes photos of Santa with the kids, provides a link to the pictures and prints them in a holiday-greetings section with kids’ letters to Santa.

Hanson also had a good idea for the typical “progress edition” many papers publish in winter when ads are slow: Along with features on businesses, list building permits and related reports from local governments, which are documentary evidence of community development.

Lettie Lister of the Black Hills Pioneer in Spearfish, South Dakota, said she was told

told that “progress sections were dead,” but theirs attracts many non-regular advertisers. It’s not called a progress edition, but “Our Towns,” which sounds like something that people will keep a long time, adding to its ad value.

The Pioneer marked its 140th anniversary by mining its historic archives in the last quarter of the 19th century, starting with reports of the battle at Little Big Horn. The paper did a feature every Saturday, then a compilation without ads but a $10 price tag.

A newspaper’s big anniversaries can be celebrated with a section that also celebrates lesser anniversaries of other businesses, said Peggy Scott of the Leader in Festus, Missouri. It marked its 20th and 25th anniversaries and chose the most compelling stories of other businesses, with no repeats between the two.

Don’t run a bunch of extra photos without considering opportunities for a sponsored page, spread or even a section, said Mary Huber of the Archbold (Ohio) Buckeye. Local schools have many events that lend themselves to this: athletics, theatrical presentations, science fairs and so on.

Local festivals are natural opportunities for special sections, but the Grant County Herald in Minnesota takes up a few notches with a $100 treasure hunt for a hidden “newsbox” with a coin, promoted with a spread of ads with clues to its location. Almost every advertiser participates. The last clue is posted at the Herald office during the festival, and dozens of people line up to get it.

Bill Ostendorf of Creative Circle Media Solutions urged publishers to do a total-market-circulation edition once or twice a year: “Advertising more than pays for it, and it’s a really god promotional thing” for circulation.

I added that my institute encourages newspapers to include a health and wellness section in its TMC editions; our research shows that people need and want health information, and are more likely to subscribe to the newspaper if they know it regularly has such information. Also, most health-care providers have a budget for advertising, and newspapers are leaving a lot of that money on the table.

One of the session’s more interesting ideas came from Dick Seibel of the Silver City (New Mexico) Daily Press and Independent. In New Mexico, each county has a lobbying day during legislative sessions, and his Grant County has long had one of the more ostentatious. The paper does a special section about the county’s attractions and its legislative priorities, printing 3,000 extra copies that are distributed to legislators and other officials and around the capital of Santa Fe. Seibel said the project reinforces the importance of the newspaper to movers and shakers. And that’s what makes this idea worth mentioning. Wish we could have included them all!

Is it time to remove your doorknob?

William Faulkner has often been cited as one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century.

He was born Sept. 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi.

Wednesday was his 122nd birthday.

His publishing career began in 1919 but he was most prolific in the 1920s and 1930s,

Faulkner was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature for “his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel.”

He won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1954 for his book A Fable and again in 1962 for his final novel The Reivers. His 1929 book The Sound and the Fury was named sixth on its list of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century.

He composed multiple other works that appear on similar lists.

Faulkner lived and worked on his family’s country estate in Oxford, Mississippi.

His morning routine included rising early.

He enjoyed eggs and broiled steak for breakfast with a pot of coffee.

He then retired daily to his small writer’s study to labor over his work.

There, he wrote his novels by hand and later typed them out with two fingers on an old Underwood portable typewriter.

He was diligent about his routine and hated distractions and interruptions.

So much so, Faulkner would remove the door handle when he entered his study.

He’d take it with him to his desk in order to prevent unwanted distraction.

This way, no one could interrupt him.

How often do you get distracted from your work?

I am the world’s worst.

A grad school professor of mine once mused, “it seems your apartment is the cleanest when we are counting down the hours to a big exam or a due date on a paper.”

He was right.

For many of us, the minute we sit down to work is the same minute we remember 1,000 other things that “need to be done.”

For me, it’s usually unreasonable excuses like the sudden urge to organize my filing drawer or check my email inbox— again.

Many are distracted by social media.

Defeating these excuses requires action.

Faulkner needed to remove the doorknob.

What is your doorknob?

What keeps you from doing your best work and being productive?

Proverbs 4:25 says, “Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions.”

Sometimes “keeping our eyes straight ahead” means removing the door knob completely.

By doing this, we leave ourselves with no excuses and no escape from our work.

What is your doorknob?

What do you need to remove or improve to be the most productive you?

One may look at William Faulkner and say, “How does one win a Nobel Prize, two Pulitzer Prizes and essentially define an entire genre of American literature?”

He removed the doorknob. That’s how.

Imagine what could happen if we all did the same.