How I read and write

I got an interesting set of questions about my reading and writing habits from a blog reader the other day. Since it’s Friday and I’m running out of blog fodder for the week, I thought I’d answer!

1. What is your media diet?

It’s more like a media binge. We get the Wall Street Journal delivered, and I at least scan that daily. Weekly: We subscribe to Time, Business Week, The Economist, People, The New Yorker (my husband subscribes to Nature but I don’t usually read that one). Biweekly: Fortune. Monthly: O magazine, Real Simple, Runner’s World, Vogue, Self, Shape, Wired, Parenting, Redbook, Reader’s Digest, Elle, Cooking Light and probably others I’m forgetting. When I’m in airports I like to pick up other magazines I might be interested in and may subscribe to in the future, like Good Housekeeping, Prevention, Whole Living. Online, I read USA Today and sometimes the New York Times, plus a host of blogs. Books: I like narrative non-fiction. I’ve been trying to read more novels, and I go through spurts (like reading all of Virginia Woolf’s works) but this year I’ve started both Solar and Super Sad Love Story and haven’t made it far in either. I read the poems in the New Yorker and sometimes in the various books of poetry I have on my shelf. What I don’t do: watch TV. I’m certainly not claiming that reading Cooking Light is any more noble than watching a cooking TV show, but I’ve decided that TV doesn’t really fit in my life on a regular basis right now.

2. What is your approach to writing? (When and where do you do it and for how long; to what extent do you separate the writing and editing process; how do you decide what to write about and how much planning is involved; etc.)

I write for a living, so I treat it as my job. I have childcare from 8AM to 6PM Monday through Thursday, and half a day on Fridays. I spend most of that time at my desk in my home office, working on different projects.

How do I decide what to write about? My primary focus right now is books, with longer bylined pieces as a secondary priority behind that. My third priority is anything that supports those two (of which blogging is a big part). Sometimes editors come to me with ideas, and other times I pitch them. I get ideas by throwing together trends and stats and stories and the like from all those different publications I’m reading. Once I get the green light on an assignment, I pull together my existing research, and poke around online for a bit to see who might be the experts in that topic, or “real people” with stories to tell. I set up interviews and conduct the interviews with an eye toward getting great images, quotes or anecdotes.

When I start writing a piece I try to be very clear on the thesis — the one sentence summary of the point — and then build the article or chapter around that. Structure is key. If you’re arguing a thesis, there’s a certain logical order (lead in, thesis, background, my 2-3 main arguments, address any concerns, conclusion/walk-off). I write pretty tightly. I’m not so much editing as I go as being economical in knowing how much can be conveyed in a given word count. Of course, first drafts are never perfect, and so I’ll wait a bit, then go back through and tighten and polish.

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