Thursday, April 19, 2012

Writers on Writing - Chris Jones, Gene Weingarten & Rick Cleveland

There's been a few pieces I've seen recently that dealt with writers and writers on writing... and an additional thing going on with one of them that's a shame. In terms of the actual pieces, there was a Q&A with Chris Jones of Esquire, a profile of Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten, and a farewell column from Rick Cleveland for the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.

The column by Cleveland is titled "It's been fun and an honor" and notes him leaving (of his own volition) 42 years of full-time sports writing to take over as Executive Director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. I'm not familiar with the guys work at all, but it's a nice final piece to readers and I found of note his statement "sports writers tell stories about people, who happen to play sports."

The second piece on writing to mention was an in-depth profile of Gene Weingarten for Washingtonian Magazine. Written by Tom Bartlett, it traces a writing career through some interesting twists and turns. Bartlett details how Weingarten in college studied Psychology, but also edited the New York University school paper and left short of a degree. His first newspaper job then came after getting a freelance piece into (as a cover story) New York Magazine and later left writing and took an editing job at the National Law Journal in New York because (as he says in the Bartlett piece) “I felt like I was never going to be a great writer. I felt like I was going to be a good writer at best. I wanted to be great at something.”

It's a terribly interesting career management idea and making it all the more compelling was the later change of Weingarten's detailed by Bartlett...

"In the late ’90s, he transmogrified from editor back to writer. All those years of fixing other people’s copy had made him a student of narrative assembly. He had developed theories, including a grand philosophy of storytelling. All good stories, Weingarten had come to believe, are about the meaning of life."

Interesting content all around... from the idea of being the best at editing to then applying those principles to exemplary writing and an identification of the drivers of his own work.

Final piece to note here on writers and their work was a Q&A interview for the blog TVFury with Esquire and ESPN writer Chris Jones. I've linked to and written frequently on content from Jones so was interested to read this interview and struck by one comment in particular. While talking about stories from and time spent at the Masters golf tournament, Jones mentioned how "all memories are local", which brought to mind for me the theory (which I'm sure I got from someone else and just latched on) that once something is written down, it becomes for others to do with it what they may. That act causes an idea from being someones own "little darling" while in the head to something that can be interpreted and used by others.


That notion of an idea going from being internal to external is something that I don't usually think of in bad terms, but it actually probably does apply as a negative to the aforementioned "thing that's a shame." Jones in early 2011 started a blog, Son of Bold Venture, and used it as a place to write about writing. The idea completely resonated with me and I found the blog to be something which both inspired me around writing and exposed me to new writers and like-minded people totally into the craft of writing. Best example of this like-minded people concept was a guy, Scott Warden, I quoted in my blog post "Wanting to Do Something Not Being Done - Writing as a Career" last June.

Well, the posting by Jones to Son of Bold Venture became pretty infrequent (not his job to write it so can't find fault there), but he was always very forthright in posts made and about a year ago expressed on his blog disappointment about not getting recognition for a magazine piece that was a source of pride. This was seen as whining by some and apparently has been repeatedly brought up and used to bludgeon him with personal attacks behind the "say whatever you want about someone online" cloak of the Internet.

As a result, Jones recently did a post to Son of Bold Venture about no longer posting to the blog and taking down the majority of posts already published. That post on his motivation to step away has been removed along with many others and while I wish he had kept online more of the content (with perhaps just the more personal viewpoint stuff purged) I certainly can't say I blame the guy for being sick of getting beaten on with personal attacks using his own (almost always excellent) writing. I found on a site called The Awl a screen shot of this deleted post and the closing words from Jones (who hasn't said he's doing anything dramatic like quitting writing, just trying to stay away from Internet trolls and said snark) on his blog sign-off post were "I wish all of you the best of luck with your careers. I hope you strive to do good work. I hope you choose to be builders. Maybe that's a harder choice than I ever realized, but trust me on this, because I've only ever been honest with you. Choose it."

It's sad, I like to think the guy could continue using the blog as a forum about writing, but maybe it was the right move for him to make... maybe there are just too many people on the Internet who want to use people's largely innocuous words as sticks to beat them with. A shame.