… These magazines emerge, and very quickly they find themselves in trouble and within a very short space of time they close. And then it raises questions: Are we losing audience interest in longform nonfiction? Are we losing our ability to read? Has the Internet destroyed everything? And really, the focus should be on how that magazine has operated. If you have a magazine that’s run very badly, that’s the reason that it’s closed. Not because the readership is deserting it. That is actually very rarely the case.
Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like. That’s what leads people to try to write novels, for example. They like reading novels. They notice that people who write them win Nobel prizes. What could be more wonderful, they think, than to be a novelist? But liking the idea of being a novelist is not enough; you have to like the actual work of novel-writing if you’re going to be good at it; you have to like making up elaborate lies.
Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.
Lifehacker interviewed Ira Glass about the tools he uses to get his work done. The actual talk about tools is mostly what you’d expect a public radio host to use but the interview takes a really interesting turn about halfway through when Ira outlines his process of organizing hours of interview tape into narrative structure:
When I come out of an interview, I jot down the things I remember as being my favorite moments. For an hour-long interview usually it’s just four or five moments, but if out I’m reporting all day, I’ll spend over an hour at night typing out every favorite thing that happened. This is handier than you might think. Often this short list of favorite things will provide the backbone to the structure to my story.
Then I transcribe the tape or have it transcribed by someone. Getting every word right isn’t as important as having something on paper for each sentence that’s been said, because to make radio stories, you edit by the sentence. For some reason in the radio biz we don’t call these transcripts, we call them tape logs.
Then I print out the log and mark it up. Every possible quote I might use, I write a letter next to, A, B, C, etc. As I do this, on a single piece of paper, I make a list for myself of the quotes. So when I’m done, there’s not just the tape log, there’s a piece of paper with tiny handwriting on it, listing the quotes “A - he describes the old house, B - what it was like the moment he came home, C - his sister warned him,” etc. Any quote that’s especially promising gets an asterisk. Any quote I’m sure I cannot tell the story without gets two asterisks.
The point of this is that it gets all this inchoate material—the sound you’ve gathered—into a form where you can see it all on one page. You see all your options. It’s in a form where your brain can start to organize it. Also, writing the list sort of inserts all the quotes into quick-access RAM memory in your head in a helpful way. I find that the important first step to writing anything or editing anything (half of my day each day is editing) is just getting the possible building blocks of the story into your head so you can start thinking about how to manipulate it and cut it and move it.
I like how Ira take audio tape—something that is strictly sound and turns it into something visual to help organize it and get it back into an audible form. It reminds me a bit of how Rob Giampietro writes using two TextEdit windows—one for quotes, snippets of text, sentences he likes and the other to start organizing it all, fill in missing pieces, and style it.
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