Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Writers and the Writing Process - Wright Thompson, Chris Ballard, E.B. White, John Irving, Tommy Tomlinson & Ben Folds

I suppose it's only been a few weeks since my last post on the writing process, but there's been some great pieces I've seen about the subject.

Starting things off on writers on writing is some content around one of my current favorites, Wright Thompson. He writes long form pieces for ESPN and interesting mentions around his recent story "The Kid Who Wasn't There" were a post to the writing site Gangrey and interview he did for the Nieman Storyboard. The Nieman piece covered a lot of ground (struck me as a sort of long form version of the Gangrey post) and the parts I found most compelling were those on pure process. It's of course different for all writers (I recall Chris Jones noting writing late at night), but Thompson describes writing starting off first thing in the morning (6:30 being his first thing) and wanting to wrap up by 2:00. Also interesting was his following the same convention as Jones (and Chris Ballard for that matter) of listening to the same music over and over while writing.


Speaking of Chris Ballard... another writer on writing piece of note lately was from the blog TVFury with an interview with Ballard in advance of his book One Shot at Forever: A small town, an unlikely coach and a magical baseball season. It's a solid interview and the part that stood out the most to me was where he referenced working on his writing (and as part of this quoted an interesting missive around "figuring out your voice")...

"I’ll be stuck for a lede and make the mistake of reading an old Smith story, or a Moehringer story or something by Price or John Jeremiah Sullivan and then hate myself for doing so because the next hour is wasted as I spew out low-grade mimicry. That said, I think that’s a necessary and valuable period for any writer to go through. Ben Folds recently wrote a blog post — which I saw linked on Twitter — in which he talked about that process of discovery. He was talking about music but it really holds true for writing.

One excerpt: 'You will eventually find that it takes no effort to just be yourself, but the road to that place can be long and rough. The truth is that most artists would not want you to see the evolution of their Voice. It would be very embarrassing. Imitating your heroes, trying on ill-advised affectations. It’s all part of the trip. … While I couldn’t put my finger on why my singing sucked I found that I more easily identified the fake ass singer affectations in others and would encourage them to straighten up the delivery, as if they were sing speaking. As I heard myself coaching them on rehearsal tapes, I heard the Voice that would bring my songs to life. It took no real effort just to be me but it took some time and effort to realize that. We have to learn that we have no control over who we are musically but we do have the choice to be that or to try and be some other motherf*cker. The latter is a lot of work.'"


A couple of other pieces to mention here around the concept of writing included "Some Book: Celebrating 60 Years of ‘Charlotte’s Web’" by Michael Sims for the New York Times and a Time Magazine video with author John Irving. The piece by Sims overviews the inquisitive nature and subsequent research put in by E.B. White to write Charlotte's Web and the Irving interview included him noting a story approach of "seeing the ending and writing towards it." It's a fascinating concept that one would have to work hard to overstate the importance of in either story creation or simply working towards a goal.

Last thing to note around writing isn't necessarily on the writing process, but more on a writing career. Tommy Tomlinson wrote for his last column at the Charlotte Observer (leaving after 23 years to write for a new venture) "Moving on to the first day of the rest of my life." Very nice piece that shows for me the impact writing (and a career in writing) can have.