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David Remnick, on what it takes (the Future of Digital Longform, Part 3)

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Part 1 of our recap of the Tow Center’s recent Future of Digital Longform conference, at Columbia University, included Emily Bell talking with Joe Sexton about the impact of “Snow Fall” on narrative storytelling; and Chartbeat’s Josh Schwartz presented valuable insights on how we read. Part 2 included editors and writers talking money: how to make it. The panelists were Joshuah Bearman of Epic; Michael Shapiro and Anna Hiatt of The Big Roundtable; and Noah Rosenberg of Narratively. Today, in the third and final part of the series, The New Yorker’s David Remnick chats with Shapiro about the evolution of the nonfiction story, from his own magazine’s history of publishing the kind of “lengthy, relaxed, deeply reported, highly structured literary nonfiction” that’s “been going on since Caesar’s accounts of the wars in his empire, if not before,” to sites that are overturning — thoroughly — the “first law of evangelical web theology,” which predicted no one would read long stories online. You can watch the full conversation below (1 hour, 20 minutes).A key piece of Remnick advice:

Learn to read like a writer.

“What it means is, if you want to be a pianist … you don’t get to be Martha Argerich or Horowitz or Thelonious Monk, or whoever you worship or idealize, without thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of practice — banal practice some of it: scales and triads and chord formations and theory classes — and listening, intensive listening. Nobody plays the Rachmaninoff Third at a world-class level who hasn’t listened to endless amounts of versions of that and practiced and broken their fingers trying to play it for years and years and years and years. But because the use of language is also related to self-expression and we all have language, there’s the deceptive notion that, ‘Well, I have English and I have feelings and experiences, and therefore I can be a writer,’ like that. And bypass what my colleague calls the 10,000-hour rule. Right? The Beatles really were that good. And it didn’t hurt that they spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on the bandstand, in Hamburg. Bands that haven’t suck. And writers that haven’t read as close to everything as they possibly can — there’s no such thing as the naïf writer. … I don’t know a serious writer of any kind, fiction or nonfiction, who is not a deeply serious reader.”




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  1. [...] don’t know a serious writer of any kind, fiction or nonfiction, who is not a deeply serious reader” -David [...]

  2. [...] And writers that haven’t read as close to everything as they possibly can — there’s no such thing as the naïf writer. (Neiman Storyboard) [...]

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