“To be a great writer, you just have LOVE writing. You have to be passionate about it, so you’re going to do it a lot.”
“When I write a story, I want it to get as big an audience as possible.”
“I don’t have any problem whatsoever with being a shameless self promoter. I know a lot of writers who don’t like to do that.”
“I think some people who are super competitive can also get jealous of people who are more successful.”
“I love it when people who I like and respect and like to read, I love it when their stuff gets big.”
“If you hang around long enough, you’re gonna understand what the story is.”
“I feel good justifying my own survival by telling the stories of those who didn’t survive.”
It’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists—journalists, documentary filmmakers, essayists, memoirists, and radio producers—about creating works of nonfiction.
Have we got a good one for you today. Episode 64 with journalist Matt Tullis (@matttullis) on Twitter. His first book, Running With Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer published by The Sager Group, tells the story of how Matt got slammed with a form of leukemia at age fifteen, and subsequently what he did what that survival as many of his friends, who had previously been in remission, started passing away as the cancer came back. A couple of Matt’s caretakers, people who spent hours, and weeks, and months ensuring his survival, also died of cancer leaving Matt to wonder why he was spared.
There were several times in this book that burned your host’s eyes, not gonna lie, but Matt honors his life and his friends by turning his reporter’s eye inward, and outward, telling the story of his life and his friends.
Matt is a professor at Fairfield Univeristy and host of Gangrey the Podcast. His work has appeared in SB Nation Longform among many other places.
You’re gonna dig this episode as we talk about what it takes to be a great writer, letting events unfold in the face of preconceived expectations, competition, jealousy, and self promotion.
“What can I do with the tools I was given as opposed to the tools I was expecting?”
“If a story is just exactly what I expected it would be, I don’t think of that as all that interesting.”
“Entrepreneur, I had the instincts of an entrepreneur.”
“OK, this is how you do it…you make a connection, you think of stories that would work for a bigger audience.”
“In very practical terms, if you’re gonna be a person doing longform journalism, you will be running a small business.”
“Look at it as a business you’re running, but you also happen to be the raw material the business is producing.”
“Each story starts from zero. It never stops being exciting.”
Hello, CNF-buddies, it’s The Creative Nonfiction Podcast, the show where I speak with the world’s best artists about creating works of nonfiction—journalists, essayists, memoirists, radio producers, and documentary film makers—and how you can use their tools of mastery and apply it to your own work.
That’s right, you are in for a treat. Well, let’s face it, you’ve always been in for a treat, but this week you’re in for an Easter basket and Halloween sack all rolled into one verifiably true candy locker.
What are some takeaways? Susan talks about always having an audience in mind, having supreme focus, and needing to see yourself as a business person if you plan on doing this type of work and that it’s actually freeing, not stifling, in order to do the kind of work that excites you and feeds your ambitions.
Before we get to that, I ask that you please subscribe to the podcast, share it with a friend, and leave a rating or, ideally, a nice review on iTunes, like this one from Meredith May. She said, “Real conversations among professional writers about the essence of craft. A behind the scenes look at the way stories come together, from inception to publication, that doesn’t shy away from the truth about the difficulties and triumphs of making a living from words. One of the hardest concepts for my podcasting students to grasp is how differentiate between a story and a topic—this podcast helps them find that X-factor that makes a story sing.”
Wow. Shoutout to that five-star review. If you leave one, I might just read it on the air! It’s time for the show, episode 61 with Susan Orlean!
“We were seeing greatness. We were part of history.”
“I may not write well, but I write fast. I’m OK with that.”
“You have to figure out who you are and what works for you.”
“It’s all driven by reporting. You gotta know your stuff.”
“Sometimes 1,500 words goes to 3,000 or 6,000. Sometimes 1,500 becomes 300 and you shut your computer and go to a movie.”
“You gotta be able to eat rejection morning, noon, and night. All they can say is no.”
“This business is all about listening.”
I’m not sure where to begin if I’m being perfectly honest. Joe Drape (@joedrape on Twitter) is a New York Times sports writer and the New York Times bestselling author of Our Boys and American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise.
He wrote the 80,000-word manuscript in six weeks without a book leave.
How are you feeling about your productivity?
“When you say, ‘Ok, I’ve got six weeks to write 80,000 words,’ it freaks you out,” says Joe. “Sometimes 1,500 words goes to 3,000 or 6,000. Sometimes 1,500 becomes 300 and you shut your computer and go to a movie.”
“You’ve got to be daring. You’ve got to have that unshakable belief that ‘You know what? Somebody’s gonna publish a book someday. It might as well be me.'” —Philip Gerard
“I don’t really have hobbies. I have passions.”—Philip Gerard
“If I do this enough days in a row, probably I’m gonna get there.” —Philip Gerard
“I found that if I hang with them long enough, they would often tell me something interesting.” —Philip Gerard
“I began realizing there was a significant amount of work that wasn’t on the page, but if you did it, it would be on the page.” —Philip Gerard
“My problem is I’m interested in everything.” —Philip Gerard
“At a certain point the journey is over and you know it.” —Philip Gerard
That enough tweetable quotes for you?
Philip Gerard, writer and teacher, joined me for 90 minutes of energizing talk about the craft. I had so much fun and left this conversation fired up to pursue a bunch of stories I’ve got stuffed in the drawer.
Melissa noted how fun it was to be edited by Maggie Messitt, a former guest on #CNF.
We’re keeping the good times rolling, so let’s not waste any more time. Please subscribe to the podcast, share it with someone you think will dig it, and subscribe to my book recommendations newsletter. It’s all free!
Butler is one of the smartest people I’ve ever spoken with. There’s a level of thinking and depth you don’t often hear from someone who’s in their mid-30s. You expect it from, say, George Saunders, but listening to Butler speak was a treasure for me and I hope so for you.
Like Holland, Glenn Stout, and Charles Bethea, Butler never studied journalism, yet he’s one of the best at his craft. I sense a theme that some of the best at this craft aren’t journalists by trade, but people who have a keen sense for language, are widely read, and think long and hard about the work. They aim for impact, not a sound bite.