Friday, February 06, 2015

Pieces on writing - about a Justin Heckert story, thoughts from Wright Thompson & a speechwriter profile

Three different great pieces I've seen recently about the craft of writing included a story annotation with the author of the feature, a first-person piece on writing by a great sports writer, and a profile of the lead speechwriter for President Obama.

The annotation was done for the site Nieman Storyboard as part on an ongoing series and this edition "Annotation Tuesday: Justin Heckert and 'Lost in the Waves.'" The feature story that's discussed between Heckert and Matt Tullis is a long piece that ran in Men's Journal in 2009 and which I read just just a few weeks ago. The story itself was really interesting to me in that it was just so darn... memorable. This sticking power for me came out of how I found myself as a reader conflicted about one of the people written about. It would have been a great piece just as a heroic adventure yarn, but while the adventure part definitely there, one of the main characters was someone that was portrayed as complicated and conflicting in how he could be viewed. In this regard, I found fascinating that this idea of a complicated and conflicting narrative felt to also be very much in effect in a prior feature by Heckert, "Susan Cox" is No Longer Here," about which in Dec 2013 I wrote the following:

It's a fascinating piece that begins with details on someone dying and a wonderful hospital program that provides companionship for those who need it. The story then takes a sharp turn into events that makes one think about tidy narratives, what we expect to happen with things and what actually can occur instead. Heckert writes something that doesn't lend itself to a simple take-away for the reader, but that seems to be what makes it such a great and though-provoking story.

With this idea of being intrigued by the character depiction in "Lost in the Waves," it was really cool to see the recent annotation with Heckert's story of writing the feature story.

The first-person piece was "Wright his own words" as part of a project Still No Cheering in the Press Box done out of the University of Maryland Journalism School and which features a number of great sports writers dishing on writing. What I loved the most from Thompson was the following...

"I write about things that are interesting to me. Which are often very different. All of these stories, the thing they have in common is that they were somehow interesting. I feel like they’re all dispatches from a worldview."

Also of great interest to me from Thompson was his mention of one of the favorite stories he's written and it being one I hadn't seen, "The Last Days of Tony Harris" from Dec 2007 and which Thompson did a Q&A on.

The last excellent piece to note here was the fairly short New York Times profile "State of the Union Speechwriter for Obama Draws on Various Inspirations" by Michael Schmidt on Cody Keenan. Just interesting reading about someone in a pretty remarkable job.