Telling True Stories (Quotes)

Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University was sitting on the New Releases table at my local library and I picked it up on my way by.  Writing books always grab my attention because I usually enjoy reading about what writers have to say and they inspire me.  It’s like watching Food Network and wanting to cook.

This book is much closer to King’s On Writing than Clark’s Writing Tools because it’s filled with essays about what the writers were thinking and experiencing while they were trying to tell true stories.  I’ve been reading it more like a magazine than a book, devouring the interesting articles while skipping the others.  Here are some parts that stood out as especially good.

Tracy Kidder on first drafts:

I write as fast as I can to prevent remorse for having written badly… I try not to worry if I’ve done something drastic, such as changed my point of view on page 200. I write terrible, enormously long rough drafts.  The first draft takes the longest and is the most painful.  Sometimes there are a few paragraphs or sentences that are actually worth keeping.

Mark Kramer and Wendy Call share similar thoughts:

No one, not even the greatest writers, create good first drafts.  “I have to write crap before I can write anything that is not crap,” says Walt Harrington, who has been writing well for thirty years.

They also say:

Good writing is far too complex to get right in one draft or two or five. Good writers are most often plain ol’ writers who go the extra mile and then a few more.

Someone as smart and talented as Nora Ephron though, she can’t have those sorts of problems.  Right?

I had been working as a journalist for nearly eight years before I could easily write in the voice that I turned out to have.

One more thought on starting, this from DeNeen L. Brown:

I sit down to write, but I want to rise above the story, as if I am going to tell the story to someone sitting in front of me.  I summon a voice strong enough to say, Sit down and listen to me. The beginning is important, because you are establishing a relationship with the reader. You are asking to be invited in for a while.  Tom Wolfe wrote in his introduction to The New Journalism, “Why should the reader be expected to just lie flat and let these people come tromping through as if his mind were a subway turnstile?”


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