The latest edition of the Fury Files – the most popular Q and A in the history of the InterTubes – debuted Monday. This week’s guest: newspaperman Michael Kruse. It was a fascinating read, one that forced me to dwell on my craft even in a week crammed with the fervor of national signing day and a bunch of basketball games.
A couple of reflections. Oh, and you non-writers might want to turn away; we’re about to talk shop. Unless you’d like a glimpse inside our warped, ink-stained minds …
* Kruse’s writing process is somewhere between mind-blowing and just plain admirable. It’s unfortunate there aren’t more jobs like that out there – the enterprise beat. Sure, I do research, I write rough outlines and I think about my job when I’m not on the clock (which isn’t all that often). But as someone with a daily beat and in an era that’s all about immediacy, I don’t have time to fully digest anything let alone everything. And I dislike that.
Actually, I had a mini-opportunity to try the enterprise thing over the summer, filing a series of stories on sports psychology. It was daunting, despite being chopped into newspaper-sized bites. But it went reasonably well.
* The second point is related to the first: I’m not sure long form is in my (or our) DNA. What I mean is that it feels hard and foreign. Like my attention span has shrunk to the point that it gags and chokes on massive chunks of information, like a snake trying to swallow a sofa. To be honest, these 500-word entries feel like longform even though they’re not in the classic sense.
Plus, I’m in my head about it. I used to build my daily work around the relatively in-depth feature steeped in emotion and poetry and drama. Now, I practically dread it – and there’s one due next week.
What changed? Personal tragedy. That’s all I can figure. It’s not that I’ve devolved as a writer; I’d argue that at this point in my career and in my fifth year on the same beat, the routine pieces (gamers, etc.) have gotten better and easier rather than stale. However, my wife gave birth to two micropreemies in Sept. 2010, and the two of us wrote about the experience – life, death and five months in the NICU – extensively, to the point that people asked us to turn it into a book. Instead, the longform process has become borderline painful; I can’t muster the strength to invest that much into a gravely important story. I hope to get over that in time. I probably will.
In theory, we all evolve as writers – the proof being the disdain we show for our early works. That’s one of the most interesting bits about the Kruse piece: He admitted to having those same feelings, specifically in regard to the book he penned about the Davidson men’s basketball team. Of course, I still want to read it … if I get time.
That goes back to the first issue – most journalists (or is it just me?) are in such a sausage grinder (copyright Herman Cain) that we can barely reread what we wrote let alone take time to read as much of other people’s work as we would like. What’s more, we (again, me) get even less time to trade notes on the writing process. Can you imagine anybody trying to create a cure for cancer without sharing notes and successes and failures and methods with other scientists?
This week’s Fury Files was a much-needed reminder that thinking about the writing process at least occasionally has to be a part of the writing process. Thanks, Mr. Kruse.