Episode 61—Susan Orlean on Writing for an Audience and the Entrepreneurial Nature of a Writing Career

Susan Orlean for Grub Street / New York Magazine

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Susan Orlean (@susanorlean)

“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.

New York Times bestselling author of Rin Tin Tin, The Orchid Thief, (which was made into the movie Adaptation), Saturday Night, My Kind of Place, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup, and the children’s book Lazy Little Loafers. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker (full archive here) and she came by the podcast to share her wisdom and experiences from a career writing deeply reported features. You can find Susan online @susanorlean on Twitter and visit her website Susan Orlean dot com.

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!

Episode 45—Bronwen Dickey Returns to Talk about the Paperback Release of Pit Bull, Troll Culture, and How Perfectionism Kills

Bronwen Dickey, Brendan O'Meara
Bronwen Dickey, everybody!

By Brendan O’Meara

Tweetables by Bronwen Dickey (@BronwenDickey)

“To be able to see something you put so much time into have a life outside your head is amazing and to connect with readers…”

On trolls: “The way a culture corrects itself is when people refuse to be cowed by that bullshit.”

On when research is over: “As Susan Orlean says, ‘You meet yourself coming the other way.'”

“I’m very drawn to upending stereotypes or going into a community of people that the public may think it knows.”

“Getting into those conflicts is where stories happen.”

“Perfectionism will truly kill you.”

“Everything that I have ever written, I can’t read.”

“The world will absolutely keep spinning on its axis if I write a story that fucking blows.”

“Every project feels like you’re at the bottom of Everest.”

Bronwen Dickey, author of Pit Bull: Battle Over an American Icon, returns to The #CNF Podcast and we had a lot of fun talking about troll culture, how to know when the research is done, why she finds herself at the center of these polarizing conflicts, and how perfectionism kills.

Be sure to check out our earlier episode from 2016 where she was equally illuminating and charming

Please subscribe to the podcast wherever you get them (iTunes and Google Play Music badges are in the right margin) and my monthly reading list newsletter. If you dig the podcast, do me that solid. Thanks!