Good Reads

Good reads: The hard work of writing, Teddy Forstmann’s ghost, one paper’s second act, and more

writing is hard

To do good writing, read good writing. Here’s the good writing I’ve been reading this week:

Earlier this week, an author acquaintance shared an email she’d received from a student enrolled in her online writing class. The student was upset, my friend shared in a message she left on a forum for freelancers, because “writing is too much work.”

Poor baby.

My friends, the not-so-secret secret of writing is that it’s hard. And when it’s not hard, it’s really hard.

As they say, good writing is rewriting. If you read a story that’s interesting or intriguing, that feels like the writer is having a conversation with you, it’s that way for a reason. On top of the time it took the writer to come up with the idea, pitch it, get it accepted, negotiate a contract and do the research and reporting, he or she no doubt spent hours laboring over the beginning, middle and end of the story. It can take years of practice to achieve that look of effortlessness.

Which is why not everyone who’s good at writing ends up being a writer. Talent is just the beginning. The rest you have to work at.

Don’t take it from me. Chuck Wendig, a screenwriter, game designer and author of Blackbirds recently weighed in on the vagaries of writing and getting a book published on his Terrible Minds blog, in a post called 25 hard Truths About Writing and Publishing. He’s a lot blunter about it than me. Here’s an example (caution, Wendig is NSFW):

Writing and getting a book out there — whether through a publisher or via your own intrepid go-get-em spirit — is a tough row to hoe, Joe. And luck factors into it: you can certainly maximize that luck, but just the same, publishing requires that spark of serendipity. Frustration is imminent. You’ll hear things, see things, and have to deal with things that will make you want to headbutt a plate glass window. You’ll want to give up. Don’t.

 Here are some other good reads for writers I found this week:

The Ghost in the Gulfstream (Vanity Fair) – When Rich Cohen signed on to ghostwrite billionaire financier Theodore “Teddy” Forstmann’s memoir he had no idea what he was getting into, or that he wasn’t the first writer the former Wall Street “Master of the Universe” hired to tell his story. Everything was great – until Cohen needed to start writing – Forstmann wouldn”t let him. It’s a beautifully told story-behind-the-story and cautionary tale of the best and the worst of working as a ghost.

The newsonomics of Aaron Kushner (Neiman Journalism Lab) – News industry analyst Ken Doctor dissects the OC Register‘s new, reader-first business model, instituted after Aaron Kushner bought the paper’s parent company out of bankruptcy six months ago. Since then, the Reggie has bumped up the newsroom by 90, which Nieman says “represent(s) one of the largest hirings of journalists since Patch placed 900 or so solo journalists in outposts across the U.S. two to three years ago.” The paper aims to make money by increasing subscriptions and adding a paywall, and is re-energizing its community weeklies, all 25 of them. As a former Register staff writer who still has friends in the newsroom, I’m hoping this story has a happy ending.

Commenting threads: good, bad or not at all (Scientific American) – This piece on the pros and cons of allowing comments on blog posts is especially timely given that I’ve read several posts in recent weeks by bloggers who’ve decided to shut down the commenting function because of trolls, haters and other badly behaved readers.

Inside Forbes: The rise of the entrepreneurial journalist in a world seeking credible voices ( – Staff writer and new media analyst Lewis DVorkin explains why he thinks’s model is a hit. In addition to stories from staff writers, the business website runs blog posts from 1,000 contributors, many but not all of them freelance writers and journalists. All of whom have the power to publish to the site without first running posts through an editor. Of course, not everybody works out, DVorkin says. He adds: “We’re always learning how best to evaluate potential contributors, what the audience wants and what’s right for our brand. It’s part art and science.”

[Flickr photo by storyvillegirl]

2 responses to “Good reads: The hard work of writing, Teddy Forstmann’s ghost, one paper’s second act, and more”

  1. Carroll Lachnit

    Wendig’s hard truths are brilliant and spot on. But I do think trying to make a living writing books (novels in particular) is much harder and crazier than journalism or other kinds of business writing. If you love writing for writing’s sake, I’d say do it, but keep it in perspective. Anne Lamott (as usual) put it best:

    “I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”
    ― Anne Lamott