Subscribe to RSS - Writers and writing

On reconstructing a lost life

Homeless person on street

Starting with a vague obituary, Cynthia Hubert pieced together the life of a woman who died at 77 on a Sacramento street. Maria Carrillo talks to Hubert's editor about the story's conception and challenges: "It goes back to the elements of that obit notice. The age. The alley. The sleeping bag. How is it a woman of that age was living on the streets? Who had written the obit? If she were loved, how is it she came to die alone in an alley?"

Looking for sources in a small town

Small town street corner sign

Kendall Powell interviews Jessica Wapner about her reporting in the drug-ravaged town of Austin, Indiana: "It wasn’t easy to find people who were actively using drugs. During my first few days there I spoke with a lot of people, but none who were actively using drugs, even though most people knew someone who was suffering from addiction or who had died from an overdose. The nurses running the needle exchange let me accompany them in their car on the Friday I was there."

Robert Caro and the last Johnson book

Robert Caro

James Santel interviews the LBJ biographer — and before that the biographer of Robert Moses — about his research and writing habits, how he learned about the nature of political power, and why his Johnson biography ended up being five volumes: "I wanted to do Johnson’s life in more than one volume because there were things that had been cut out of The Power Broker that I regretted having to cut. I cut 350,000 words out of that book. I still miss some of those chapters."

How writing is like a road trip

Toy car on map

Fiction writer Katharine Britton discusses how she does drafts, using whiteboards and index cards, and the importance of "musing" at the start: "As when I travel, I require both a beginning image and a final image for my stories. My characters get some say in the route we take to get there, and I’m flexible about who gets to come along on the journey, but the adage, 'If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do' holds altogether too much uncertainty for me."

Writing about prison from the inside

Prison cellblock

Shane Bauer spent two years in an Iranian prison, then returned to the U.S. and reported on prisons here. His account of going undercover to work in a privately run Louisiana prison was recently published by Mother Jones and Davis Harper talks to Bauer about it: "I put in an application thinking, Why not? But I didn’t really think anything was going to come of it. If they Googled my name and found previous stories I had written, I thought that would disqualify me."

Tom Wolfe and his stories about status

The Right Stuff cover

David A. Price finds a common thread in New Journalism icon Tom Wolfe's writing, and that thread is status and how people compete for it. Price quotes from Wolfe's work and includes excerpts from an interview that he conducted with the author in New York late last year: "'That has more or less been my system of approaching any subject,' Wolfe says. 'For instance, "The Right Stuff" is not a book about space, it’s a book about status competition among pilots.'"

Anatomy of a miraculous recovery

Brain image

Siri Carpenter talks to Apoorva Mandavilli about her Atlantic story on a mathematician's recovery from brain trauma, and how her friendship with the victim's wife affected her reporting: "It was really tough to figure out how to be honest about all of the things that have happened to him — and some of the things in there are very personal, like the sexual disinhibition and the aphasia and the panic attacks he’s had. I had to struggle with how much of that to include."

Nora Ephron on the myth of objectivity

Nora Ephron

From a 1975 interview of Nora Ephron by legendary Chicago author Studs Terkel on "gender, politics, and the journalistic responsibility of ending the gaslighting of women," Maria Popova excerpts some of Ephron's thoughts: "I’ve never believed in objective journalism — and no one who is a journalist in his or her right mind does — because all writing is about selecting what you want to use. And as soon as you choose what to select, you’re not being objective."

How the muse can work on deadline

Manual typewriter

Charles P. Pierce discusses a deadline courtroom story by Michael Brick, focusing on Brick's description of the defendant as he awaited sentencing for a murder that he maintained he did not commit: "Writing well and writing fast always has been what newspaper reporters have for poetry. If I had to guess, and if he was anything like me, I’d say Brick didn’t know how good that passage was until he saw it in the newspaper. The deadline is a muse well-camouflaged."

A nuanced story on a delicate subject

Couple in silhouette

Nieman Storyboard's April Reese gives the annotation treatment to a Peter Baker story about a young man and his web site devoted to lonely people. She focuses in part on how the writer remained firmly neutral in his treatment of an often objectionable subject: "Baker acts as our guide to a subculture that’s difficult for many people to relate to: the world of 'involuntary celibates,' filled with men — and they are almost all men — blaming their loneliness on women."