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That’s Not Writing, That’s Reporting

September 6, 2012

If memory serves, it was Ernest Hemingway who said that newspaper writing prepares you only for more newspaper writing. He’d been asked if his newspaper career had helped him become a novelist.

I was a reporter for many years and none of the breaking news stories, features, obits, columns or editorials I’d written prepared me for writing “The Champagne Ladies.” My journalism career, though I had oodles of fun doing it, got in the way

As I re-read a paragraph or sentence I’d think: That’s not writing, that’s reporting. I was including too many details, too much explanation, loading a scene with minutiae. There was nothing left for the reader to discover on his or her own. In journalism a writer spells everything out so clearly so that reader has no questions. In fiction you count on the readers doing a little work to help you out, allowing them to become part of the narrative. You want them to think: What does this mean? It keeps them reading.

With this in mind, I decided not to describe the characters in too much detail. Rita, Sandra, Ben Podlowski, Old Man Grefkowicz — what do they look like? I wanted the readers to envision them however they pleased.

But there’s a distinct advantage in being a journalist before writing novels or short-stories: discipline. You wake in the morning and think, I have to get some writing done. It’s never, Will I write something today? Going through a day without writing something, even if it needs to rewritten, is as unthinkable as letting a day go by without drinking beer.




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