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Category Archives: tips

Upon Gary Smith’s retirement: The venerated Sports Illustrated writer on longform immersion and intimacy

It isn’t often that a narrative journalist’s retirement makes the news, but when Sports Illustrated announced this spring that longtime writer Gary Smith would be leaving the business, the public eulogies — and the “Best of Gary” lists — began immediately. Smith, who spent 32 years at SI, wrote celebrated stories “that weren’t so much about sports as [...]

The Best of ‘Draft’ — control the narrative, keep it short & other advice on writing

Recommended reading from the New York Times’ Opinionator series “Draft,” on writing: “Keep It Short,” by columnist and author Danny Heitman: To shorten my articles, I often worked through several versions, and with a merciless finger on the delete button I could surgically reduce my first draft by half.

The exercise taught me that successful economy [...]

Reporting and writing historical narrative: Author Adam Hochschild on accessible prose + scene/setting + character + plot

Several years ago, Adam Hochschild, the acclaimed author of King Leopold’s Ghost and other nonfiction narratives, told a Vanderbilt University audience that academic writing doesn’t have to be boring. Scholars of history and science — theoretically any discipline — can use basic storytelling techniques without sacrificing gravitas. “I think that even people who don’t think of themselves as [...]

Keeping it simple: On plain language

A few years ago an intern did a study of the writing that showed up in our newspaper. He ran our stories through a computer program that measured the reading level you would need to understand each piece. It turned out that my stories were written at a fifth-grade level. If I remember right, I [...]

Lunchtime viewing: 5 useful vids on storytelling

  Novelist Chimamanda Adichie on how to tell a story, TEDtalks. Discussed: how to find your voice; the danger of a single cultural narrative; ginger beer. (13 minutes, 58 seconds) Best-selling narrative nonfiction author and filmmaker Alex Kotlowitz and Mary Marshall Clark, director of Columbia’s Center for Oral History, “Finding Narrative,” Columbia University. Discussed: definition [...]

‘It’s not about the cameras, it’s about how you see the world’ — and 49 other tips and inspirations from the BU narrative conference

Fifty takeouts from some of the speakers at last weekend’s Boston University conference on narrative, culled from the Twitter feeds of Lauren Alexander, Alletta Cooper, Cat Cowan, Jessica DuLong, John R. Gagain Jr., Sascha Garrey, Nate Goldman, Kate Hoagland, Robin Lubbock, Cristian Lupsa, Sophia Diogo Mateus, Simina Mistreanu, Lisa Mullins, Amy O’Leary, Greg Rienzi, Beth [...]

Writing the book: Neil Swidey on ‘Trapped Under the Sea’

I love inspirational quotes from august authors as much as the next writer. But the quote I thought about the most during the long years when I was writing my new book, Trapped Under the Sea, didn’t come from an author. I stumbled across it in a New Yorker profile of the writer George R.R. [...]

Audio Danger: Radio storytelling and the perils of digital permanence

Back in the distant 1990s, This American Life host Ira Glass described a recurring dream of NPR’s Scott Simon: Simon would shoot a basketball over and over, but then it would disappear. The ball never landed. That, Glass said, was a perfect metaphor for broadcast: We tossed words and stories into the ether, but we [...]

Want to write great narrative? Study screenwriting.

“That’s all fine,’’ the L.A. film executive said briskly, “but who’s the antagonist?’’ Cut to: Me, author of a soon-to-be published biography of the 1940s/’50s wrestler and pop culture figure who called himself Gorgeous George. I’m on the phone with the woman in charge of selling HarperCollins books to the movies. Time: 2008 or so. [...]

Writing the book: Ben Montgomery on Grandma Gatewood’s Walk

One night in January 2013, deep into the writing of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, I found myself alone at the keyboard, crying. Weeping, really. Thinking back, the storm of depression and anxiety that made me bawl that night was brought on by a mess of psychological pinpricks I’m just not used to: the remorse of a [...]