What’s a piece of writing advice that’s held true for you?
Clear thinking produces clear writing. If you can’t articulate what the story’s about, you’re not ready to write. Keep reporting.
What’s the thing you read when you want to remember how to write?
What’s a writing strategy you’ve developed that’s worked for you?
Deadlines are the mother of inspiration!
What do you do with all the writing ideas that pop into your head? Where do they go?
Oh, man… My Notes app is a dumpster fire! I also keep notebooks all over my home and they’re filled with inspiration I might get in the shower, after meditating, before bed, in the middle of the night when the ancestors stop by, next to the couch when I’m chatting with a friend. When ideas visit me, I have to get them down immediately before they leave.
How do you work out what you run with, what you save, and what you get rid of?
Early in my career I learned the difference between an idea and a story. I also learned to accept that not all ideas are MY ideas, and I’m good at saying to colleagues whose work I respect and admire, “Hey! I have an idea and I think YOU are the one to do it.” Of course, they don’t have to listen to me, and I don’t do it for credit. I just like to see good stories out in the world. Sometimes I’m the vessel; sometimes I’m just the messenger.
Who do you think really knows how to do a newsletter?
Two of my faves are by people who strike me as completely self-possessed: Jamelle Bouie, who was a legend long before he got to NYT, and Samantha Irby’s newsletter recapping Judge Mathis episodes is probably the thing I most look forward to in my inbox every single day.
What’s your one tip (that doesn’t get discussed enough) for a writer trying to improve in 2022?
Whatever happened to letter writing? I think a lot about striking up a correspondence with one of my writer friends to talk about the craft, to encourage each other, and to offer constructive critique. People used to do that — and we still read their letters! Bottom line: I bought expensive stationery in the pandemic and I’m looking to use it.
Is there a thing you’ve written and have actually enjoyed going back experiencing?
Is this the part where I get to tell everybody about the time I got paid to write about Freaknik, aka The Greatest Story Never Sold? I am proud of many stories I’ve done in my life, but few give me more joy in the retelling than the one I lived through and got to report on through the recollections of everyone from a former mayor to the unofficial mayor of Atlanta (shoutout to Jermaine Dupri!).
How would you describe your relationship with your readers? (especially if it’s evolved)
It has definitely evolved, because I have multiple audiences! When I started out two decades ago (!) I was writing for newspapers. Readers could email me, or even (gasp!) call my desk directly to talk to me about my stories. How quaint! Now people can find me because they read my story, or see me on television, or hear me on the radio, or see me speaking somewhere or giving an interview about my work. And they can still let me know what they think via my social media profiles — which I have kept public — but I have the choice about whether and how I engage with people about my work. I try to maintain some of the civility of the former medium in how I interact now; with the Internet comes anonymity and distance along with a faux familiarity that definitely affects how people talk to each other. But I’m always going to seek out ways to be in community with people who are genuinely interested in productive, intellectually honest conversations around the things I write about, because at the end of the day, my work is meant to be an invitation to dialogue, never the last word.