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As Matt Tullis writes in his accompanying essay, more than a dozen top narrative writers agreed to speak, either by Skype or in person, to his undergraduate journalism class at Ashland University last fall.  Here is some their best advice:

  1. On reporting and writing: “I don’t draw a distinction between reporting and writing. You can’t write what you don’t report.” – Michael Kruse, senior writer, Politico.
  2. On being a reporter: “Some of it is fun as hell. The thing I love the most is that it changes. You get to choose who you want to learn from. You can call anyone.” – Wil S. Hylton, contributing writer, The New York Times Magazine, contributing editor, New York magazine
  3. On access: “I’m always sort of amazed at how willing people are to let you into their lives to write about them, because I’m writing about people whose lives are in bad shape.” – Eli Saslow, staff writer, The Washington Post.
  4. On life: “Ideally, you find the thing you’re good at, and it’s a thing you love doing. If you try to do something you don’t love, you’ll get crushed by the people who care.” – Chris Jones, writer, Esquire and ESPN The Magazine.
  5. On celebrity interviews: “I don’t talk about myself in interviews anymore, which can be useful to get people to open up, but I don’t do that because I abhor seeing the looks on their faces when I start talking about myself. Now I’m very cut and dry. These are my questions. You’re going to answer them and I’m going to get out of here.” – Vanessa Grigoriadis, contributing editor at New York, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair.
  6. On objectivity: “Stories end up being a reflection of you. You choose to begin a story with a certain sentence and to end it a certain way. Objectivity is a myth. You can’t be objective because you’re a person.” – Seth Wickersham, senior writer, ESPN The Magazine.
  7. On ideas: “The idea is everything. If the idea is crappy, the story is mediocre at best. The idea has to have some action. There’s got to be something at stake. Most people try to do too much. If you don’t narrow it down, it’s hard to go deep enough to show how they’re changing over time.” — Kelley Benham French, professor of practice, Indiana University, formerly with the Tampa Bay Times.
  8. On staying until the end: “One funeral I covered, I stayed until the last scoop of dirt was shoveled onto the grave. Then the gravedigger said, ‘Good job Marine. Semper Fi.’ I was the only reporter there. I made it a point. Every funeral, I got there early and I stayed late. I treated it with the care it deserved.” – James Sheeler, Shirley Wormser Professor of Journalism and Media Writing at Case Western Reserve University, formerly with the Rocky Mountain News.
  9. On details: “Everything around you, no matter how minute, could be brought out as a hair-raising scene.” – Justin Heckert, contributor to Esquire, Grantland, Indianapolis Monthly, Men’s Journal, and The New York Times Magazine, among others.
  10. On time: “Time is an elastic thing in narrative stories. You can jump back and forth at will.” – Thomas Lake, senior writer, Sports Illustrated.

Further Reading

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