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A novelist's classic work of journalism

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Ted Geltner writes about a “confused and disoriented” novelist Harry Crews, dropped into Valdez to produce his first work of journalism at the start of the 1970s oil pipeline boom: "While Crews the character plays the novice, Crews the writer expertly fills in the holes. The details paint a picture of a way of life being disrupted by outside interests. He describes the 400 miles of steel pipe waiting to be laid by the thousands of men that will be streaming into town."

David Foster Wallace's writing advice

David Foster Wallace

Maria Popova quotes from David Foster Wallace's correspondence on subjects ranging from the importance of dictionaries to the structure of a story and what it really means when readers describe a passage of good writing as effortless: "They’re not saying effortless in terms of it didn’t seem like the writer spent any work. It simply requires no effort to read it — the same way listening to an incredible storyteller talk out loud requires no effort to pay attention."

Lessons from the archives of Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

Michael Lewis dives into the New York Public Library's archives for a profile of the New Journalism icon at 85: "It was as if there were, in the United States, two realities. There’s the reality perceived by ordinary people and the reality perceived by Tom Wolfe — until Wolfe writes his piece or book and most people just forget their original perception and adopt his. He might be forgiven for believing that he is in the possession of some very weird special power."

How a journalist becomes a novelist

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Ricki Morell interviews Pulitzer winner Geraldine Brooks on how coming from journalism helps her in fiction: "I think being a journalist instills the great fear in you of the reader not turning past the jump. Understanding that the easiest thing for a reader to do is stop reading is something that my wonderful newspaper editors instilled in me. That is very useful for keeping the narrative flowing and respecting the fact that there are many demands on a reader’s attention."

The hypocrisy of Henry David Thoreau

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Kathryn Schulz writes that the author of Walden was "self-obsessed: narcissistic, fanatical about self-control," and his account of his months in the wilderness is closer to a "semi-fictional extended meditation" than nonfiction: "Thoreau did not live as he described, and no ethical principle is emptier than one that does not apply to its author … The hypocrisy is that Thoreau lived a complicated life but pretended to live a simple one. "

The new journalism is slow journalism

Michael Blanding writes about practitioners of slow journalism, in which writers work on stories for years: "Like the 'slow food' movement from which it gets its name, slow journalism stresses openness and transparency, laying bare to audiences its sourcing and methods and inviting participation in the final product. It also provides a complement and corrective to breaking news, where amid the pressures of ever-present deadlines, conjecture can often replace reporting."

Truth as the key to immersion reporting

David Finkel

The Washington Post's David Finkel discusses his pair of books on the Iraq War in an appearance at the Nieman Foundation: "The thing I want to emphasize, all of this stuff, whatever you might think of writing or longform writing or 'feature writing' or immersion writing, the term I prefer is reporting. Every sentence in this book is, first and foremost, an act of and a result of reporting. Every line in this book, there’s nothing assumed. There’s nothing imagined."

When happiness is quitting the staff job

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Devon Maloney gave up the freelancing life for her dream job as a pop music editor at one of the nation's biggest newspapers. Four months later she quit. Maloney writes that she isn't second-guessing her decision: "When I left, I had little to no nest-egg to live on. I had a few prospects, but nothing sustainable. Now I’m up to my ears in credit-card debt. I haven’t received a paycheck in weeks. I also can’t recall a time in my adult life when I’ve been happier."

Virginia Woolf on a writer's self-doubt

Virginia Woolf painting

Maria Popova examines "the artist’s universal and necessary dance with fear" via a quote from Woolf's novel Orlando: "Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished."

How a story can be a life form

Neil Gaiman

Maria Popova quotes from a lecture by author Neil Gaiman on what makes stories last. Gaiman argues that the best stories can live for millennia: "Do stories grow? Pretty obviously — anybody who has ever heard a joke being passed on from one person to another knows that they can grow, they can change. Can stories reproduce? Well, yes. Not spontaneously, obviously — they tend to need people as vectors. We are the media in which they reproduce; we are their petri dishes."