Tuesday, at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, we had the good fortune of hearing from Alec Klein, an award-winning investigative journalist who will be teaching a long-form non-fiction capstone class this summer. The goal of the class? To produce a long-form magazine feature piece, or, a chapter of a book, to hopefully be published someday (and maybe even win a Pulitzer Prize :P).
He gave us a bunch of great advice – how to brainstorm, come up with ideas and the importance of re-writing things. After he was done encouraging us to join a seminar that will meet for three hours per week starting in June, I looked around the classroom and realized the world’s next Hemingway may be sitting in there with me. Or F. Scott Fitzgerald. What if we were about to embark on a ten-week journey much like Owen Wilson’s adventure in Midnight in Paris?
I WAS SO STOKED!!!
Then, as if the morning couldn’t get any better, two-time National Magazine Award winner Laurence Gonzales came in to talk to us about his career as a writer. After his father fell 27,000 feet in the cockpit of a crashing war plane and lived to tell the tale, Mr. Gonzales made death and near-death experiences his specialty. He pursued his passion and, as a result, produced several books on human grit and survival including Deep Survival and Everyday Survival in addition to profiling celebrities like rock star Lyle Lovett.
After I picked my jaw up from the ground, the quote that stuck with me from his presentation was this: “If you have an idea, you can make a story out of it. Fill a notebook with ideas, then go back and process.” Much like my twin sister told me a few months ago when I was struggling to come up with story topics: “How can you have trouble coming up with a story? You live on EARTH!” Which, as simple as it is, is so true – everyone has a story.
ChicagoNow community manager Jimmy Greenfield recently spent just over a year putting together a book called “100 Things Cubs Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.” According to Greenfield, what most people may consider the most dry and mundane part of the publishing process was one of the most rewarding for him: “I spent full days researching and reading, and it was great. I knew a little about everything I researched, but there have been hundreds of books written about the Cubs and with every one I looked at I learned more about the franchise. Being able to spend days and nights going into the archives of newspapers and magazines didn’t feel tedious – it was a lot of fun.”
My dad may not have survived a 27,000 foot fall out of the sky in a burning cockpit and I may not be a lifelong Cubs fan, but I like to think I’ve got a story or two up my sleeve. Not to simplify the art, but, much like Greenfield and best-selling author and motivational speaker Jon Acuff says on his blog, writing a book should be fun. The best part of Acuff’s post was this phrase: “If you’re going to write a book or start a business or go back to school, make sure you have fun. The world has enough dogs pulling miserable sleds. Be a dog that jumps in the pool.”
So I don’t know about you, but no matter what happens with my writing or in life, I want to approach it like this guy.