01:08: Singer-Songwriter John Elliott

Inside tiny edits, there are big secrets.

One of my favorite contemporary musicians is singer-songwriter John Elliott. For the eighth episode of this first season of The Writing Process Podcast, I spoke to the Minnesota-native and San Francisco-based independent artist.

In this episode, I unpack two of powerful writing ideas he exemplifies: leaving space for the reader to co-create and editing to get “more true.”

01:07: Poet Danez Smith

For as subjective as poetry can be, there is little ambiguity is being named a finalist for a National Book Award in poetry.

That’s what Danez Smith earned with the 2017 poetry collection Don’t Call Us Dead.

Danez, who uses they/them/their pronouns, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they were first introduced to editing. First in high school as a poetry performer, Danez was accustomed to writing by “adding words and reading them faster.” Then in college, the idea of creating for hours to find just that “little bit of language” that is worth sustaining.

This became a dominant part of the conversation I had. Here are a few takeaways that I took:

  • The writing process is about creation to then throwaway what should remain. You create the rock and then sculpt from it.
  • The first draft is for the author, to exorcise whatever is needed. Everything after is for the audience, including reader experience and clarity.
  • Gather small bits of language whenever you can find them.

Danez was fun and bright and oh so patient with early technical challenges.

01:06: Memoirist Lori Tharps

The editing experience is always challenging. But it’s perhaps most difficult when you are telling your own story.

That is the focus of what I discussed with memoirist and journalist Lori Tharps, who is most recently a collaborator on Proud, the autobiography of Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympics. Tharps, herself, has written memoir in several forms, including her 2008 book Kinky Gazpacho.

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01:05: YA Author Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh comes from “book people, going back generations.”

The author of the 2017 Young Adult Fiction novel “Who’s That Girl” from HarperCollins, she says there is a saying around her family. Never give a Thornburgh a book — or you’ll be forced to sit there politely while they read it in front of you.

She’s just 28 but as an editor at beloved novelty publisher Quirk Books and in the midst of a two-book deal with a major industry powerhouse, she has some insight.

The author of two books, an editor on several others and working on her next novel, she reminds us that the joy of a book is that, as author, “you’re making a promise to the reader” and want to deliver.

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01:04 Comedian Todd Glass

How does a joke writer take a punchline from a voice memo to a major Netflix comedy special? Let’s ask celebrated standup comedian Todd Glass.

In the fourth episode of the first season of the weekly Writing Process Podcast, I discuss that among many other methodologies from a man who doesn’t quite consider himself a writer. Todd’s perspective is unique: he grew up with several learning disabilities, so his relationship to writing is far different than others.

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01:03 Rapper Chill Moody

As hip hop became a global, cultural force, the definition of rapper has stretched.

But its origins, as a cornerstone of live events, remain very much alive in people like Chill MoodyA native of West Philadelphia, Chill is an effortless emcee on stage and fiercely proud of his lyrics. Though he grew up in the economically distressed (though by no means monolithic) Overbrook neighborhood, Chill excelled academically and came from a supportive family. As a much-beloved underground artist, he uses music as a storytelling platform, for his experience and those like him.

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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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You’re going to get criticized. Learn when to listen.

One effective way to divide the kind of criticism you’ll get for your work is to split the feedback between that which comes from someone who has done the work you’re doing and that which comes from someone else.

It doesn’t necessarily mean one category will always be effective or helpful or productive or not. Those are further distinctions. But when I’m receiving critical feedback —  on something I’ve written or presented or shared — often the first check I make is that one.

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Journalists: what do you love first, the Reporting or the Writing

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

One of the first questions I ask younger reporters when I meet them is which is their first love: the reporting or the writing. Storytelling, as the form is euphemistically categorized, is very old. The ways we report and write, too, have old origins, but their forms adapt with the times. They change constantly. I bet your industry has a similar kind of split, subtly different pathways to the professional work.

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New Sincerity is the answer to snarky post-modern web culture

A version of this essay was published as part of my twice-monthly newsletter several weeks ago. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

I’ve been struggling a lot over the last couple years, and of course particularly in the last six months, with how mean the social web can be. How mean we are to each other. And how naive I sound to others when I think we can be something else.

This has gotten me into reading about the New Sincerity movement of the 1980s that then got a major boost of attention in the 1990s by beloved and troubled writer David Foster Wallace. It’s what I’ve been searching for.

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