Sometimes long posts appear online that would feel out of place anywhere else. These pieces are often first-person, revelatory and not edited to fit the brand of a magazine, newspaper or corporate website. While it’s hard to imagine a news organization adopting their style, these posts offer a vivid form of storytelling.

As is the case with the two essays we’ve selected as our latest Notable Narratives, they are often excruciatingly personal, with the blade of intimacy sharpened on a hard stone of humor. Richard Morgan’s “Seven Years as a Freelance Writer, or, How to Make Vitamin Soup,” from The Awl, recounts the story of a skilled professional trying to survive as a self-employed journalist. Jennifer Lawler’s “For Jessica,” from her own blog, weaves a recent report about the happiness levels of parents into an account of her daughter’s crushing medical challenges. A very hard read, Lawler’s piece attempts nothing less than to redefine the idea of happiness.

When you bring her to the hospital for the eighteenth time, or maybe it’s the twentieth, and she says, “I want roses, like a princess. Red ones,” you make sure she has them, even though it destroys your budget for the month. Raising your daughter makes it impossible to also hold a steady job, so you freelance, despite the fact that you’re not really cut out for writing about things normal people are interested in.

And you find out, interestingly enough, that there are so many not-normal people in the world that you don’t ever have to write for the normal ones if you don’t want to. Which is a huge relief. It’s a club and the password requires an appreciation for dark humor, and you have to have been through gut-wrenching grief to get here, and you look at the people who don’t know, and you realize, for the first time, that you don’t want to be them: innocent, unknowing, unformed, unrealized, their lives entirely unlived.

Morgan’s piece narrates a different kind of struggle. Along with offering cringe-inducing stories of the most awkward moments in his freelancing career, his essay serves to inspire and warn writers who believe they’re dying to walk in his shoes.

After getting the runaround for a month, I sent balloons to an editor at Rolling Stone with a note: “This is cheaper than skywriting. Lemme know about my story.” When the Times asked me for writing samples, I sent them only a 3,000-word essay I had written about unrequited love with a straight guy. I sent a looooong note to a personal and professional hero, Adam Moss, wherein I compared him both to Big Bird and The Pope and quoted him to himself— no, really.

It’s a style that’s easy to do badly, but these writers tell you something difficult and wonderful and secret — something no one else will, or can. Their words have a looseness that lives in a different ZIP code than Hemingway. The language feels impulsive and headstrong, and carries the reader through year after year, in tales that seem too long to possibly read to the end. But you can’t help yourself – you don’t stop reading, and you end up thinking about the stories for days.

[For more on vitamin soup, read our interview with Richard Morgan. And for a post-surgery update on Jennifer Lawler's daughter, see her new blog post.]

Most popular stories from Nieman Storyboard

Show comments / Leave a comment