Columnist Lisanne van Sadelhoff writes like her life depends on it

Lisanne van Sadelhoff. Photo: Willemieke Kars

Lisanne van Sadelhoff (32) is a journalist for Dutch publications De Correspondent, RTL Nieuws and De Volkskrant, as well as a columnist for local newspaper AD Utrecht Nieuwsblad and magazines Flair and Intermediair.

Her weekly columns for AD Utrechts Nieuwsblad feature anecdotes or current affairs seen from a Utrecht point of view. In her columns for Flair, she writes about being a woman, oftentimes with a feminist approach.

Gut feeling
The ideas for the columns don't come only when Lisanne opens her laptop, but rather much earlier, in her head. The stream of thoughts never stops. On the contrary: it is precisely at the moments of silence that her ideas start to tumble, like when she is taking a shower or riding her car.

“All the things I experienced, read, thought, and felt that week go through my mind”, she says. And that forms the base for her column, which has talked about the time she was involved in a car crash, the time a pit bull attacked her dog, and when her visit to a Covid testing facility felt like a festival. Lisanne: "sometimes it’s a gut feeling that fades away and I can’t do anything with it. But I can almost always find at least one subject to talk about in my column. It can be something big or small.”

Without an idea, the Word document remains white and empty, and with it comes an endless stream of possibilities which she finds terrifying. However, a whole column can emerge from a single punch line, as if the sentences sprang up spontaneously on the paper. “I write as if something scary was chasing me. Sometimes I finish in half an hour. I don’t see it as an achievement but rather as pure necessity or fear-inducing anxiety. I am scared that the column won’t come out fast enough. So the only thing I do is keep writing, make haste. I want to know as soon as possible whether it is a good column. I can only rest when it's done, once there is a complete column.”

Own opinion
Lisanne is usually inspired by subjects that might be controversial or cause some kind of stir in society. The courage to address such topics came gradually, with the years. “I have more freedom now to write about more urgent or sensitive topics. For example, I think it's embarrassing that we are still talking about white and black schools. Two years ago, I wouldn’t dare to address such a subject.”

“When I first started as a columnist, I told AD's editor-in-chief that I didn’t have an opinion at all. I mostly wrote about my own experiences. I held on to that for a long time, but at a certain point, I realised: ‘Hold on, I do have an opinion’. Now, I dare to be more outspoken and my columns have more of an edge.”

That means she gets some nasty responses sometimes. “That’s still a bit of a shock”, Lisanne confesses. “But I also think: ‘Hey, I wanted to write about this topic, so people are entitled to react to it.” She doesn't mind when people disagree with her columns or find them short-sighted, as she appreciates other people's opinions. “Sometimes, writing a column feels like a one-way street. I think to myself: ‘My goodness, who am I to proclaim all these things? People reading the paper while having breakfast have to deal with all that.’ On the other hand, it is nice to see that people read your columns and make an effort to respond.”

Her readers are certainly up to date with her personal life, which is something that doesn't bother her anymore after seven years of writing. “I keep control by constantly balancing what I write. I always think: ‘Ah well, it’s only 350 or 600 words’, but if you read all my columns at once, then you know a lot about me. That's a little bit strange. But I really don’t care that people know what kind of underwear I wear or that I’m losing my mind.”

Her rule of thumb? Stay true to yourself and be honest. “Then you are always good and safe. People can talk as much as they like, but that's how you experience things. Feel free to be unnuanced if you dare, but also remember to be nuanced when the subject requires it.”

Everything’s possible
If you're considering running for the position of campus columnist 2021, Lisanne has a few tips for you: “Regarding topics, you can write about your own experiences. Otherwise, you can take a look at what’s going on in society. You can also write about a gut feeling or a huge current event. Or have a go at what you’re thinking about yourself and write an analytical or even philosophical column.”

“The most important thing to know is that a column can always be shorter. Killing your darlings is key. Sometimes I think a text really can’t be shortened anymore, yet my editor-in-chief still manages to remove some sentences." Asked about what she likes the most about her role as a columnist, Lisanne says she appreciates that “there are no rules: too many word repetitions, too poetic, strange enters, none of those things apply for a column. You can make up your own words or run with your thoughts. I love that, that I'm allowed to go wild with it. You can go in any direction in terms of subjects, but also in terms of sentences and words. For me, writing a column means freedom."

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