‘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.)
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.
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.
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.
For its age and influence and subjectivity, writing is one of those crafts that require great study and practice, though they don’t guarantee success alone.
The ordering of words has always been a great love of mine. I’ve been writing at length for as long as I can remember in whatever medium I could find. I’ve spent the last 10 years developing my news writing form, a tradition I have great pride in. However I’ve tried to keep developing my creative storytelling instincts too — fiction being a complimentary but wholly distinct offering from the nonfiction I know best.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned. (I continue to update this post, though I also have bigger ideas here)
It gives us culture. It is a way to pay remembrance for those who came before. Yes, it’s a little bit fun.
In the world of news, there is a lot of tradition that needs to be lost. Unquestioned impartiality, balance without real context, an ignorance and distance of what funds it, a rigid belief in a strictly reactionary audience.
But, I’ve always felt, there is lot to be taken in from the past. I’ve been blessed to work alongside some talented and hungry older journalists who have imparted great wisdom on me. I thought some of that tradition was worth sharing as, in my own way, I try to preserve the best of it.
Below, find 25 pieces of advice about being a newsman that I take great value in.
Beginnings say as much about who begins them as they do about what they begin.
Journalists and writers, of professional kind or independent and online, take very seriously the ledes they produce and how others see them.
It’s very likely that I have had harsher scrutiny for ledes I’ve written than for anything else, and it’s even more likely you’ve found the same. Thusly, I’ve gotten lots of lede lessons through the years, particularly those with a bite or two that are worth sharing.
Below, lessons I’ve learned about crafting a strong lede. Share your own, so I can add to this list.