Gene Weingarten on How To Make It In Non-Fiction Writing

“We are in bewildering times for young people who want to make non-fiction writing their careers. Journalism jobs are scarce, and getting scarcer. I deliver the only solace I can, by telling them what I believe: The art of storytelling is as old as civilization. There will always be a hunger for it. Learn to do it well, and somehow, you will find a way to make it pay.

I tell the most fragile of them that being a good writer mostly means being a good observer and a good thinker, and that, with work, it’s possible to triumph over a lack of innate writing skill. I use myself as an example; I believe I did exactly this.

There’s one last truth that I don’t tell them, because it’s needlessly disturbing and would serve no pragmatic purpose. I’ll say it now, just once, and be done with it. A real writer is someone for whom writing is a terrible ordeal. That is because he knows, deep down, with an awful clarity, that there are limitless ways to fill a page with words, and that he will never, ever, do it perfectly. On some level, that knowledge haunts him all the time. He will always be juggling words in his head, trying to get them closer to a tantalizing, unreachable ideal.

It’s a torment you can’t escape. It will reach even into the comfort of a drunken sleep, and it will shake you awake, and send you, heart pumping, to an empty piece of paper.

If you have that, you can be a good writer. Congratulations, I guess.”

This was helpful to me today. From Gene Weingarten‘s book The Fiddler in the Subway: