Friday, June 27, 2008

Thinking Like a Writer

This week my authors' group, the Invisible Institute, was treated to a private talk with James B. Stewart, a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of 8 books. We were eager to hear about the trajectory of Jim's career, what sustains him, how he started, and how he's made it all work. Stewart teaches journalism at Columbia University and I'm currently reading his how-to book, Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction. I wanted to share this passage from it with you, because it applies to the work that so many of us do, whether that be writing or research:
"The essence of thinking like a writer is the recognition that what's most interesting is what's unknown, not what is known. Thinking like a writer prizes the question more than the answer. It celebrates paradox, mystery, and uncertainty, recognizing that all of them contain the seeds of a potential story."
It's so tricky when you're writing a book proposal and you must state your argument often before you really know all the questions! But Stewart's reminder is an important one, and also makes me think of my favorite quote from Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet:
"Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day."
Ahhh.

6 comments:

PunditMom said...

So jealous. I idolize Stewart.

anniegirl1138 said...

These are great tips. Thanks!

Courtney said...

I was just reading my book, after reading this post, and it had the exact same Rilke quotation! D., we inevitably share the same brain. Love you.

Deborah Siegel said...

Punditmom: come back to NYC for a visit and we'll go chase him down! :) Court: wow. We really do share a mind. I love it. May I please have s'more of the Martin flash?!

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