telling true stories: recommended reading

It's always a privilege to sit with someone who has found success in a career that fascinates you, to listen and gather up the gold they're able to share from their experiences. I'll never forget lunch at Schlotszky's with Jamie Langston Turner, one of my writing professors from university. And a writer's conference is always inspirational and memorable, both for the content learned and the personal connections established.

Reading Telling True Stories (Mark Kramer, Wendy Call, editors) is like attending a writer's conference and getting to have personal conferences with professional journalists, creative nonfiction authors, editors, and other publishing gurus - lined up back to back for several days! They've anticipated all your questions - because they've been where you are now. And they've collected their best secrets and painted an honest portrait that's highly instructive.

Frankly, much of their advice for writing about the world is just plain good advice for living in it. Stuff like this: 

* I had to learn to listen, to surrender my place in the moment (Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, 62).
* Every person lives multiple stories... . Choose the right story. (Malcolm Gladwell, 73).
* Look for ways that the outer journey can mirror an inner journey (Adam Hochschild, 78).
* Bring a strong sense of humility to the work (Debra Dickerson, 107).
* Choose what matters (Jon Franklin, 127).
* As I matured . . . I returned to something simpler (Susan Orlean, re: writing style, 159).
* Do not add. Do not deceive (Roy Peter Clark, 166).
* Transcend stereotypes and assumptions (Isabel Wilkerson, 176). 
* Narrative is at once daring and humble (Emily Hiestand, 201).
* You must learn how to take criticism and use it, but you must also learn when to resist criticism (Walt Harrington, 230).
* No matter how massive the event, the grieving is individual (Jacqui Banaszynski, 250).
*Occasional discomfort, both physical and emotional, is one of the burdens of being a narrative writer. ... Every time I push myself out the door, I try to remember that there will be a payoff. ... By forcing myself to stay out there, I usually discover something on which the whole story turns (Susan Orlean, 285). 

And here's a short list from their suggested reading, included at the back of the book, that I'd like to check out - because the best place to get good recommendations on writing is from professional writers: 

* Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, thirtieth anniversary ed. New York: HaperResource, 2006.
* Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. New York: Longman, 2002.
* Cheney, Theodor. Writing Creative Nonfiction, Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books, 1987.
* Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, reissue ed. New York: Vintage, 1991.
*Gerard, Philip. Writing a Book That Makes a Difference. Cincinnati, OH: Story Press Books, 2000.
* Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. Perennial, 1990.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in writing or is just fascinated by the inner workings of the journalistic mind. 


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