Q&A with David Maraniss

April 16, 2013

By Dan Schlacter

In a lunchtime Q&A session with MP&F staff members last week, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist David Maraniss said that writer’s block is often caused by a lack of research. (It is also caused by the prospect of writing a blog post about one of the best writers in the United States!)

David Maraniss, right, speaks with MP&F staff members during a lunchtime professional development session last week. David’s son and MP&F partner, Andrew Maraniss, left, moderated the discussion.

David Maraniss, right, speaks with MP&F staff members during a lunchtime professional development session last week. David’s son and MP&F partner, Andrew Maraniss, left, moderated the discussion.

David spent an hour discussing the writing process, and I am happy to share a few of the themes I took away from that time.

  • Do your research; look for the compelling story that emerges from your research and then “unpack it” by letting one sentence or theme lead to the next. Don’t try to say everything at once.
  • The challenge of navigating to the end of your story can be the most thrilling part of the writing process.
  • If you are looking for examples of good writing, read Op-Eds in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday “Reviews” section.
  • On longer writing projects, every hour you spend organizing your notes saves hours in writing.
  • Try to stay one step ahead of your editor.
  • John McPhee has proved that you can write an interesting piece about anything.
  • When you are conducting an interview, begin by letting your subject unpack his or her brain. Chances are, she has been thinking about what to say. Give her a chance to say it. Don’t rush into your line of questioning.

What are some of your best practices for writing?

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