01:02 Novelist Zinzi Clemmons

With her What We Lose, Zinzi Clemmons had the breakthrough debut novel you might dream of.

Upon its release last year, Vogue called it the ‘debut novel of the year;’ Vanity Fair called it “powerful” and the Atlantic called it “striking.” She was named a National Book Award 5 Under 35 Honoree, and the New York Times profiled her.

Though she is exceptional for these and other reasons (prestigious universities, born of a mixed-race South African immigrant mother), Zinzi has plenty to offer other writers by way of advice. It helps that she teaches writing at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

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01:01: USA Today Journalist Jess Estepa

In the pilot episode of my new weekly podcast The Writing Process, I speak with my dear friend Jess Estepa. She’s a national politics reporter for USA Today.

She also was the first person I called when I wanted to figure out what exactly I wanted to accomplish with this idea of mine. I knew I wanted to capture real lessons on writing from lots of different forms, but I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. Jess patiently let me sort that out.

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Introducing The Writing Process: my new weekly podcast

Today I am announcing a new personal passion project: a weekly podcast conversation with master writers from an array of different forms.

Humans have spoken to each other for maybe 100,000 years (or, uh, a lot longer). But we’ve only had writing for 6,000 of them. We’ve cultivated corn for twice as long.

Even though it’s relatively new, we have lots of forms of writing: from  short stories and novels to journalism and memoir to poems and lyrics and comics and software code. When I talk to friends who are gifted in any of these, I find they listen closely to the Greats in their form. But rarely the Greats from the other forms. That feels like an opportunity.

That’s why I’m launching The Writing Process, a weekly podcast conversation I have with masters from all of the many writing forms. Please subscribe on iTunes or other places podcasts can be found. I’ll also be posting each episode here.

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On a long drive? What’s one good new idea you can develop on the road

Funny how when you don’t do something, it can feel special.

More than 9 in 10 Americans drive at least once a week and a majority commute daily by automobile. I don’t. One of my first burning desires to make part of my adult life was to not be reliant on a car.

I chose to live in a heavenly walkable neighborhood in one of our country’s few cities that can be truly lived in without a car. I sold my car. I bicycle to work, live near a major subway line and can walk to daily needs like a supermarket, doctor, veterinarian, barber and plenty of nightlife.

Cars are misused in cities and create weird parking culture. But I don’t hate cars. They’re a novelty to me now. So I’ve developed a little game when I’m in one.

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Do not save writing for later, more will come: ‘The Writing Life’ by Annie Dillard

The Writing Life,‘ a 1989 collection of essays from novelist Annie Dillard, is one of the foundational contributions to the canon of teaching modern fiction writing.

A few months ago, I finally tore through the tidy, celebrated, delightful little book, commonly known as the friendly, fiction alternative to the 1920 grammarian guide from Strunk and White. (Interestingly a New York Times book review took a dim view of her collection, but it’s cherished today.)

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Economics terms that help me understand the world

Since my undergrad years, I’ve taken an interest in the pop science of behavioral economics. From books and articles and podcasts aplenty, I’ve found the shallow edges of the social science quite helpful for my worldview.

The clearest result of that has been an entire set of familiar terms that help explain the world. These phrases have been valuable to me. I’d like to share them with you.

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What a kid should graduate high school knowing

Caught in a debate about whether or not software programming should be taught in schools, I wanted to start from a first principle. What do I think every American should graduate high school knowing?

Pulled out from pedagogy or educational theory, this became an exercise simply to explore what I felt was important.

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Build the habit of making habits: resolutions of mine that stuck

A friend asked me what I thought is the best skill to develop. Build the habit of habits, I told her.

That’s how you get the most out of yourself and your place. It won’t always work but if you develop the rigor and constitution to choose to add a habit and then go and do just that, you’ll be gold. That is how you develop discipline.

My method for doing this is my near obsessive approach to annual resolutions. Each year, I put forward a dozen of them, many straightforward goals but often several tied to habits I want to add to who I am. I tie them to individual months but in truth I plan to do many of them throughout the year and beyond.

Recently I was considering how many personality traits of mine I believe started as resolutions. I think they’re a good example of building the habit of building habits. I wanted to share.

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Privilege has nothing to do with how hard you work

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Privilege has nothing to do with how hard you work, or even what you deserve.

Among the many complexities we are confronting in our fist-flying, partisan online discourse, this is a translation issue. If you’re telling someone they’re privileged and you can’t understand why they get frustrated or tune you out, pause for a moment. Likewise, if you’re someone who has been called privileged and don’t understand why they ignore how hard you work, stop to consider.

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