Monday, July 22, 2013

Writers on writing - Whedon, Chiarella & Hastings

There's been a few pieces on the subject of writing I've seen recently that contained some insight I thought worth holding onto.

The July 2013 issue of Indianapolis Monthly featured "Celebrity Profiler: Tom Chiarella, in His Own Words" and there was some tremendously interesting stuff from the Esquire writer.

 On writing celebrity profiles, he wrote the maxim (which could apply to almost any type of worthwhile endeavor) "I keep myself moving forward. I step into the restaurant, climb into the car, ring the bell. This is Rule Three: Keep moving forward. Toward the subject and through the conversation." 

On the actual physical act of writing, and output of his work for Esquire, there was "I return to Greencastle and sleep for two days before I sit down to stare—like any writer, anywhere—for days on end (but never more than 14, in truth) into the white, white guts of my computer, groping with leads, sussing out the transcript, figuring what is new copy and what’s shopworn, doping out a structure, one that hopefully provides an angle no one’s thought of yet, all in service to the peculiar charge I put upon myself: to craft a feature more like a literary short story than any piece of reliable reporting. And Esquire lets me do it, because the editors there still believe that a magazine is a luxury, a vaguely weightless indulgence, a beautiful thing, and they ask me to write a story as if it were a creative construction, one that might puzzle a reader with observations of the sunlight, rather than teasers from the Season 3 DVD screener. So, in that regard, I know: I’m fortunate. I have the only job in the world that demands the kind of work I do." 

On interviewing and portraying story subjects, Chiarella wrote "I let people see him changing his mind. Readers like a little ambiguity, a little progression of thought in their profiles. They want to see a conversation in full, which never means a straight Q-and-A for me. It requires a little texture. And that usually extends beyond the experience of a single meal. That’s why I always ask for three meetings and only settle for two." 

Finally, I found noteworthy from the piece by Chiarella a comment he made both because of his experience writing celebrity profiles and just a general notion with "All lives are interesting. The grand life and the small. It would be petty and presumptuous to assume otherwise. And that too is a rule: All lives are interesting." 

For Fast Company Magazine that was a piece by Ari Karpel titled "How to be Profilic: Guidelines for geting it done from Joss Whedon". The acclaimed writer and director of The Avengers, the superhero blockbuster hit that I enjoyed quite a bit, had some interesting thoughts around creative work (including reference to the David Allen book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity) passed along by Karpel.

Finally, non-fiction writer Michael Hastings died at 33 last month from a car crash and written about him were "Missing Michael Hastings" by BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith and "On Michael Hastings" by Max Fisher for the Washington Post. Both interesting and very nice tributes and the Fisher piece included at the end advice Hastings gave last year to young journalists via Reddit:

1.) You basically have to be willing to devote your life to journalism if you want to break in. Treat it like it’s medical school or law school. 
2.) When interviewing for a job, tell the editor how you love to report. How your passion is gathering information. Do not mention how you want to be a writer, use the word “prose,” or that deep down you have a sinking suspicion you are the next Norman Mailer. 
3.) Be prepared to do a lot of things for free. This sucks, and it’s unfair, and it gives rich kids an edge. But it’s also the reality. 
4.) When writing for a mass audience, put a fact in every sentence. 
5.) Also, keep the stories simple and to the point, at least at first. 
6.) You should have a blog and be following journalists you like on Twitter. 
7.) If there’s a publication you want to work for or write for, cold call the editors and/or email them. This can work. 
8) By the second sentence of a pitch, the entirety of the story should be explained. (In other words, if you can’t come up with a rough headline for your story idea, it’s going to be a challenge to get it published.) 
9) Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting. Like it’s more important to you than anything else in your life–family, friends, social life, whatever. 
10) Learn to embrace rejection as part of the gig. Keep writing/pitching/reading.