Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Awhile back I added Esquire’s Chris Jones to my collection of writers and their origin stories. I got the story of Jones’ big break from his blog, which turns out to be kind of a gold mine for people – like me – who like to geek out on other writers talking about their writing.

Are you one of those people, too? Check these posts out:

How It Begins includes the actual email exchange that led to Jones landing the assignment for The Things That Carried Him, a 2009 National Magazine Award winner for feature writing.

Losing’s Reward is a brutally honest post about Jones’ Roger Ebert profile missing out on the National Magazine Award nominations, and Fear is about, well, the fear and doubt that infect the writing process.

NO lists 20 things that “should rarely if ever appear anywhere near your copy.”

Bonus link: Jones’ Esquire colleague Scott Raab also posted some writing advice on his site awhile back. This is the meat of it:

Writers love to write — and not because it’s easy. Getting it right isn’t easy at all, and that challenge is a big part of why writers love to write. It’s a high, working on your game, a way of being in the world that feels absolutely honest and true.

Anyone, especially in his or her twenties, saying ‘I have no time to write’ because of a job or anything else is full of crap. Writers write. If you can’t find time to write, don’t worry about becoming a writer. You’re not a writer. You’ll never be a writer. Find something else that lights you up.

Same with reading. Anybody who has no time to read isn’t a writer. All the work necessary to learn how to write boils down to reading and writing. This is not subtle or nuanced advice, obviously. I stress it here because of how often I talk to people who seem to think there’s a shortcut. I know no shortcuts.


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I was catching up on some back issues of Harper’s a few weeks back, and this quotation about the author of In Patagonia and The Songlines caught my eye:

He saved travel writing by changing its mandate: After Chatwin, the challenge was to find not originality of destination but originality of form.

Among those who have followed Chatwin, the most interesting have forged new forms specific to their chosen subjects: thus Pico Iyer’s sparkily hyperconnective studies of globalized culture and William Least Heat-Moon’s “deep maps” of America’s lost regions. Perhaps most important were W.G. Sebald’s enigmatic “prose fictions” — particularly Rings Of Saturn — that likewise hover between genres, make play with unreliability, and fold in on other forms: traveler’s tale, antiquarian digression, and memoir. What Sebald, like so many of us, learned from Chatwin was that the travelogue could voyage deeply in time rather than widely in space, and that the interior it explored need not be the heart of a place but the mind of the traveler.

(It’s from “Voyagers: The restless genius of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin,” by Robert Macfarlane, in the November 2011 issue.)

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This is a favorite, much-kicked-around topic of mine, and earlier this week the good folks at The Rumpus added a fresh contribution to the debate.

Messing With Memoir is an essay about the author’s efforts to revise her out-of-print memoir, years after she’d written it, and the ethical issues she grappled with in doing so. Here’s a taste:

I was a much better writer now. Why let that raw, earnest, adverb-friendly, long-sentenced version of myself linger? With e-books and Print on Demand (POD) as a garrote, I could quietly, efficiently off her. In her place I would seat that wiser, more skilled self.

But was it ethical? I had never heard of anyone tampering with their memoir. A memoir is not only an account of your life, it is specifically an account of your remembrances of your life. So now I would be telling that same story fifteen years later. I was re-remembering a memory.

Even more important, a memoir is a reflection of who you are at the time of writing. But now I would be peering backwards at myself from a new vantage point. Isn’t there a different author (older, wiser me) now? And haven’t I now changed my main character by writing her with this new hand? Did this matter?

Touching on the same theme in one of his “Daily Rumpus” emails a few days back, editor Stephen Elliott wrote about “the only true rule of memoir”:

You cannot knowingly tell a lie. In other words, you can be wrong, you can write things you consider to be true that other people consider to be untrue. In fact, it’s impossible to do otherwise. Most truth is not factual; most truth is subjective. But to state a something as fact when you know it is not, ie. I spent this much time in jail, is to break the cardinal rule.

I think that gets it about right.

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I’ve written before about my habit of digging up the “origin stories” of writers I admire. This weekend, while procrastinating on a story rewrite that’s due on Monday, I fell down the internet rabbit hole (it started with a Twitter reference to a writer-on-writer feud, detoured through a bizarre story about a person in a pink gorilla suit crashing a Grantland recruitment meeting, and finally led me to a writer’s blog on writing) and came across a new one, by Esquire’s Chris Jones.

Jones first came on my radar with his incredible profile of Roger Ebert a couple years back. Here’s the story of how he got into journalism. It begins with a big-name former journalist – the Headmaster of his graduate school residence – taking note of his writing and setting him up with a job interview, and ends with Jones landing a gig as a sports writer at the then-brand new National Post.

(Incidentally, Jones started that job at almost the exact same time that I, a self-righteous 16 year-old, scrapped plans to go to journalism school because I didn’t want to work for Conrad Black, who then owned the Post and almost every other paper of note in Canada. By the time I finally circled back around to journalism in my mid-20s, Black was a convicted felon, newspapers were generally considered to be a dying breed, and Jones was a regular at Esquire.)


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My Year in Writing and Reading

It’s been a mixed bag of a year for me, writing-wise. Though I did manage to keep my resolution to write more in 2011, I started out on a low note, fresh off the World Hum layoffs at Travel Channel last November. The American road trip blogging gig that fell apart in May was another pretty tough hit.

From June on, though, things started to look up. Jim, Mike and I announced that World Hum was back on its feet. I published an essay I’m still really happy with, Stilettos in Paris, and I attended the inaugural Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers (look, ma, I’m ambitious!), and spent an inspiring few days in Arkansas, meeting other writers, eating bacon and plotting world literary domination.

In the fall, my friend Sarah Menkedick invited me to write for her new site, Vela. My first essay there, In the Bush, is my first real stab at a longer narrative, and I’m pleased with the result. I also landed my first assignments with Up Here, one of my most-desired bylines. My first story for the magazine appeared in the October/November issue, and there’s lots more to come in 2012 – one of many reasons why I’m looking forward to the new year.

My year in reading was more uniformly successful. Maybe (probably) because there were long stretches where I didn’t have a ton of paying work to do, I read a lot in 2011. I wrote about some of my favorite travel-related reading in a year-end post at World Hum, but I also read a lot of non-travel nonfiction this year, and even some fiction. The best history book I read this year, Battle Cry of Freedom, was worth all the time it took — it’s a monster tome, a single-volume history of the American Civil War that manages to be remarkably readable, considering the ground it has to cover.

But my most memorable reads this year were essays, not books. Here are four that stuck with me, in some cases even months after I first read them:

I’ve started playing around with Byliner, and if you’re interested you can find lots more of my favorite essays and journalism on this “Recommends” page.

Happy New Year! And bring on 2012.

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NWT writer Richard Van Camp talks writing and the North in this article from the Camrose Canadian:

I’m going to give you the only possible advice any writer can give you: if you want to be a writer, write something you would like to read. Growing up in Fort Smith, my grandparents were medicine people and didn’t speak a word of English. We had some of the best storytellers in the world come to our house. I was raised in a time when families still visited with families. When we had company, my mom would say ‘you boys, come listen to how the world really works.’ We were never sent away.

Nobody is talking about Fort Smith. Nobody is talking about our mullets, nobody is talking about our hickies, nobody is talking about our fistfights in snow and nobody is talking about how we can two-step to anything. Growing up, I had a good eye. I was nosy, I was bossy and so I said ‘I want to start writing down the magic of the North and the romance of the North and the treachery and the heartache.’

I had the chance to see Van Camp read here in Whitehorse last spring, and in addition to being a powerful writer he’s also a wonderful performer. Strongly recommended, should he ever roll through your town.

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New Essay: ‘In the Bush’

My first piece is up on Vela: In the Bush.

It’s about the time I spent working in the Yukon backcountry this past summer. Worth noting: it’s extremely difficult to write about a life-altering experience without actually calling it “life-altering.”

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Vela: Written by Women

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of a new project: Vela, an online magazine featuring “travel-inspired creative nonfiction, written by women.”

I’ll be contributing alongside five other writers — Sarah Menkedick and Lauren Quinn, both of whom I’ve worked with before at World Hum and Matador, as well as Simone Gorrindo, Molly Beer and Amanda Giracca. Sarah is the one who brought us all together; here’s an excerpt from her explanation of the project (and specifically, why it’s “written by women”):

The point here is not that this is a women’s site, by women for women, somehow female, feminine, or feminist in style. The fact that all of the writers are women is almost, almost incidental: it would be completely incidental if the publishing world did not create a situation in which women’s voices represent only a small fraction of the conversation. As it stands, this is the case, and as long as it continues to be the case than I believe in creating a separate space in which women can write what they want to write, with the same intellectual freedom as men; without a major overhaul of self and world views; without having to label themselves as “women writers” with the insinuation that they’ll come to inspiring conclusions about yoga and use laundry as a metaphor for despair; and without having to try and out-male the men, writing in the very male styles and with the very male intelligences so predominant in the literary world.

The alternative to these male styles and intelligences is not some sort of touchy-feeling wishy-washy lovey-dovey female emotional abstraction. I’m not sure what it is. It doesn’t even have to be “female”. It is what happens in the absence of the pressure to “make it” in an industry that is not only physically but intellectually dominated by men. That is what this site is: a space to maneuver freely without having to either set one’s work apart as distinctly female or suck it up trying to prove that women can do what men do and that what men do is the best and the norm.

I’m really excited to see what my fellow writers come up with. A new piece will be posted on Vela each week; my first story will be up at the end of the month.

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After a long delay, we’re happy to be reading submissions again. Check out our submissions guidelines here.

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In the course of some googling, I came across a few useful links regarding editorial and writing rates.

First, from the Professional Writers Association of Canada: What to Pay a Writer. Next up, the Editorial Freelancers Association lists these Editorial Rates. And finally, the Editors’ Association of Canada has an explanation of the various types of editing out there — the listings mostly correspond to the rate categories in the EFA link.

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