Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Ever Heard of Literary Journalism…?

I’ve had many re-blogs here from Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog… Literary Journalism

And, I’ve covered the journalism beat a few times:

Investigative Journalists Are Storytellers, Too…

Journalists Have a Lot to Teach Other Writers . . .

More about Journalists; Because, sometimes, They’re the Most Important Writers We Have…

Today, I’m featuring an article by John McPhee, who’s won a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, has been a teacher of literary journalism, and a staff writer at The New Yorker.

I think regular readers here know that I think all writers can pass on valuable information to all other writers, no matter what particular kind of writing they pursue.

Let’s look at a few excerpts from McPhee’s article from The New YorkerOmission ~ Choosing what to leave out (as always, I urge readers to take advantage of perusing the full article…):

“Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. Forget market research. Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.

“Ideally, a piece of writing should grow to whatever length is sustained by its selected material—that much and no more.”

There was much of interest written about his life in journalism before that last excerpt and there is much before this one:

“…inevitably we have come to Ernest Hemingway and the tip of the iceberg—or, how to fashion critical theory from one of the world’s most venerable clichés. ‘If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.’”

And, an excerpt that very well may cause many writers to deeply contemplate their writerly ways:

“The creative writer leaves white space between chapters or segments of chapters. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Leave judgment in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author. If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost. Give elbow room to the creative reader. In other words, to the extent that this is all about you, leave that out.”

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4 responses to “Ever Heard of Literary Journalism…?

  1. Adam November 27, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    I’m reminded of something I once heard, that many of the best musical compositions have a similar phenomena. The audience hears musical notes that the instruments never play.
    I admit I never thought of writing that way, but I think in many ways that is an essential aspect of good storytelling. On a basic level all stories rely on implication and assumption so that they can focus on what matters to them.
    Many of my favorite stories walk that fine line, leaving just enough of a gap for audiences to think that they’re leaping to their own conclusions, and yet it’s often something we all share, once we start discussing the story.
    Very thought provoking. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alexander M Zoltai November 27, 2017 at 9:48 pm

      You’re very welcome, Adam :-)

      Thanks for your perceptive comment.

      That phenomenon in music is called Beat Tones

      Liked by 1 person

      • Adam November 27, 2017 at 9:54 pm

        Ooh, Always nice to learn something new. I think I’ll add this to my list of studies. I definitely think there’s more for me to learn and consciously recognize about the concept of “what’s left unsaid, but the audience understands none the less.”

        I once read that writing (and I don’t claim this is exclusive to writing), is like a never-ending degree program. We are both the professor/mentor and the student, endlessly guiding our study of the craft.


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