What’s a piece of writing advice that’s held true for you?
Write for your people, whoever they are.
What’s the thing you read when you want to remember how to write?
A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. It made me rethink everything I thought I knew about what a sentence could be. James Baldwin’s “Going To Meet The Man” — no matter how often I come back to it, that thing always cuts like a hot blade. Brian Phillips wrote this amazing essay for Grantland in 2014 called “The Sea Of Crises.” I find myself re-reading that whenever I’m writing something long and reported. And when it comes to criticism, anything Doreen St. Félix has written.
What’s a writing strategy you’ve developed that’s worked for you?
It’s corny but always outlining my work. One of my infinite writer-neuroses is that I cannot focus on crafting sentences if I don’t know where I’m ultimately going.
Who do you think really knows how to do a newsletter?
Hunter Harris’s Hung Up is amazing. It’s so hard to write funny consistently but she never misses. Victor Luckerson has this newsletter called Run It Back. It’s about Black Wall Street in Tulsa and manages to thread the line between really scrupulous historical research and active reporting in the present day. Those are probably my two favorites.
What do you do with all the writing ideas that pop into your head? Where do they go?
I’m always dropping ideas in my notes app. I try to follow my own curiosities whenever I can, especially with topics that seem different from some of the things I’ve covered in the past. Once I know I want to dive in more I usually scour the internet for anything I can find on the idea. Then I go to JSTOR or Project MUSE and try to download whatever I see that connects to it. By then I generally have a sense of whether I’ll pitch it to my editor or not.
What’s your one tip (that doesn’t get discussed enough) for a writer trying to improve in 2022?
Turn your phone off on occasion. Sometimes an hour or two (or if you’re tryna live dangerously, a weekend) unplugged can feel like coming up to breathe. Nobody can live offline completely, but finding a balance between accessing all the things that make my little corner of the internet great and also going, you know, outside is a necessity for me.