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You can’t edit nothing

read + write
a big big big thing
Join us on Wednesday for the second episode in our Twitter Spaces series, write + chat (more on that below).
More great things in this issue: we have reading recommendations, inspiration, and writing advice from John-Paul Flintoff and Clarissa Brooks.
read + recommendations
Each week, a writer will join us to answer some questions about what they like to read.
Our first guest is John-Paul Flintoff, an author and illustrator. He has been a writer and associate editor for the Financial Times, The Sunday Times, and more. His most recent book, A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech, was released last year. 
📸: Jaime Marshall
📸: Jaime Marshall
What’s the thing you read when you want to remember how to write?
Poetry, usually, because that’s where words are put together in the most startling fashion. If I find something I love — in poetry or anywhere else — I might write it by hand into my commonplace book, which now contains a fantastic assortment of rhetorical figures. Every so often, I might take one of those lines — whether from last week’s newspaper, a comic novel by PG Wodehouse or a blazing line of poetry — and rewrite it to reflect my own concerns. The trick is to “make it my own” while keeping as close as possible to the original. 
Also, as my writing increasingly includes illustration, I’m devoted to the books of Scott McCloud, which thrillingly explain the “grammar” of pictures.
You’re at the newsstand and have decided you’re leaving with four magazines. What are you picking up? (from any era, be as oddly specific as possible).
I’d love to find a copy of Harper’s Magazine, from about 2001, which contained a very, very long story about the writer taking part in a national poker championship. I don’t particularly like poker, but that story had me gripped. I’d buy a copy of the Financial Times magazine from the years when I was staff writer, just to have the pleasure of seeing it, like an old friend.
I’d go back to the 1700s and buy one of the earliest editions of the original Spectator, which would probably look now like a rather amateurish zine. In the same line, I’d like an original copy of pretty well any samizdat Soviet publication (I just hope the newsstand has one, hidden beneath the counter somewhere). In both these cases, I’ll enjoy the reminder that brilliant and urgent writing doesn’t always come neatly packaged. 
What’s the thing you read when you need to feel something?
Poetry again. But it has to be the right poetry for the right mood: no good reading Sylvia Plath if I feel like cheerful laughter, and a book of limericks won’t bring me a lot of consolation in times of trouble. The anthologies by Bloodaxe Books are sensational: Staying Alive, Being Human, Staying Human
But possibly the best, most moving nine pages I know are the (entire) text of Krapp’s Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett.
What newsletters have you continued to happily subscribe to?
The most consistently excellent newsletter I read is written by Ted Gioia. It’s about music, mostly — but actually I don’t care what he writes about. He writes well about anything. 
But there’s another who has given me more practical inspiration, in terms of how to use the newsletter format. I “discovered” Craig Mod last year. The great revelation was his use of “pop-up” newsletters, time-limited and (therefore) more precious because everybody knows from the start that they won’t last long.
What’s your favorite This Is A Great Day On Twitter day (one of those days when you couldn’t stop reading the timeline)?
It was the day in March when Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released from captivity in Iran, after six years. When I heard that she was to be released, I was just utterly happy. And every so often some new development was delivered to the world via Twitter — she’s leaving prison, she’s going to the airport, there’s a selfie of her on the plane… My own microscopic contribution was this drawing of how I imagined Nazanin in the taxi to Tehran airport.
© John-Paul Flintoff
© John-Paul Flintoff
What’s the best thing you’ve read this month?
I had Covid, and holed up in my top-floor office, gulping down illustrated work. Somehow, I’ve never previously come across Maira Kalman. I read, or should I say gazed at — as slowly as I could manage, because I didn’t want it to finish — The Principles of Uncertainty. Now I will have to read or gaze at all her others. 
write + inspiration
Each week, a writer will join us to answer some questions and give their perspective on writing.
Our second guest is Clarissa Brooks, a writer and editor. Clarrissa is the audience editor at Reckon South and identity writer at Mic. She is also the co-founder of Just Media.
Provided by Clarissa Brooks
Provided by Clarissa Brooks
What’s a piece of writing advice that’s held true for you?
The concept that “you can’t edit nothing” has always stuck with me. Accepting that my first draft is never going to be perfect has helped me let go of the perfectionism that impacted my writing and career when I was younger.
Also, these videos keep me sane (on completing things and comparison).
What’s the thing you read when you want to remember how to write?
I always re-read Against Catharsis by T Kira Madden or The Crane Wife by CJ Hauser, both of which reorganized my brain because I didn’t know you could write essays like that. I still get goosebumps reading those again. Toni Morrison and Toni Cade Bambara are my north stars when it comes to sentence structure and language so anything they have touched reminds me to get back to the page.
What’s a writing strategy you’ve developed that’s worked for you?
I actually have a lot of practices around writing that I’m unlearning, so ideas of always needing the inspiration to write, getting bylines to prove my worth, or writing super late at night when it’s detrimental to my sleep are all things I’m moving away from. I want a writing career that feels good and I think I can only maintain that feeling if my writing practice grows up with me instead of against me. 
So now I have a bedtime and a schedule that I try my best to stick to because it feels best for my body. The world (online and offline) has gotten enough of my body, so I’ve been trying my best to reclaim my autonomy, and therein my writing process which has been a lonely but quiet process that I’m proud to have these days. 
As a writer, how do you stay curious or keep yourself curious?
Reading poetry really keeps me excited about writing, especially in journalism where it can be hard to add lyrical elements to my reporting so it’s great to be inspired by poetry that can help me find a rhythm. 
My favorite poems are ‘The End of Poetry’ by Ada Limón, ‘The Quiet World by Jeffrey McDaniel, and ‘Hysterical Strength by Nicole Sealey. And of course, anything that is written by June Jordan or Lucille Clifton.
Who do you think really knows how to do an email newsletter?
My go-to newsletters are Tiny Violences by Jet T., anything Arabelle Sicardi touches I’m reading, so You’ve Got Lipstick On Your Chin, close but not quite by Mary Retta, and of course Werk-In-Progress by my amazing mentor Saeed Jones.
How would you describe your relationship with your readers? (especially if it’s evolved)
That’s a great question. I think I catch myself falling back into loops about audience and engagement that are normally rooted in comparison. There are a lot of pieces and articles I’ve written that I genuinely didn’t think people cared about that resonated with folks so I’ve eased into the belief that my audience is out there somewhere even if I can’t see them right now. 
What’s your one tip (that doesn’t get discussed enough) for a writer trying to improve in 2022?
Develop your political analysis offline. Being a community organizer was foundational to my focus on black culture and abolitionist futures in my writing. Being able to stumble and grow as a young person in real life helped me make my reporting sharper. Grateful to the black radical cultural workers and organizers that birthed a faith in liberation that I take everywhere I go.
Each week, in addition to hearing from writers, we’ll also give an update about what we’re doing for readers and writers at Twitter.
We’re hosting the second episode in our write + chat Twitter Spaces series on Wednesday, May 11.
This week’s guests are Ernest Wilkins, who we interviewed on March 7, and Adena Jones, who we interviewed on April 4. They’re both writers, and they both work at Twitter, so we’re going to talk about the skills they’ve had to hone to write short, the journeys that got them where they are now, and the Twitter tips all writers should know. 
Set yourself a reminder. Come take a peek under the hood.
wrap up
Thanks for being here today. As always, you can reach us at @revue.
See you next time,
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Anna from Twitter
Anna from Twitter @revue

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