2015’s best video about writing and breakthroughs

This video was filmed in 2013, but it has new resonance in 2015, which seems to have been the Year of Ta-Nehisi Coates. For every (frustrated) writer who wants an early draft to be their best, consider that this MacArthur Genius also never gets that “perfect thing” in his head out on to paper. Perseverance […]

Keep calm and follow up

Keep calm and follow up

A fellow writer asked for the best piece of advice I had for freelancers. Follow up, follow up, follow up.  As soon as I send something (a story pitch, a request for an interview, whatever), I schedule the follow ups on my calendar. This diffuses any emotional reaction to nonresponse/silence, and keeps things moving along on schedule. […]

On My Bookshelf: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

On My Bookshelf: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

If the title doesn’t tip you off, Elizabeth Gilbert’s theories about creativity and ideas are a bit woo-woo. Sometimes, seriously woo-woo. But most of her new book Big Magic is an easy-to-read take from somebody who is serious about her dedication to writing, and who sees creativity as a guiding life force rather than as […]

3 ways to become a better writer

3 ways to become a better writer

On the last morning of a silent meditation retreat, my teacher announced that he would tell us the three most important things about continuing a meditation practice at home. For a week, we had had a respite from daily life: no talking, no internet, no personal sagas, no decisions about what to do next. The normal […]

Which comes first, the story or the market?

Which comes first, the story or the market?

Looking for story ideas first and then scrambling for market suggestions often doesn’t work out in the long run. It likely took me a while to figure this out because that method is so common amongst freelance writers that it appears as if it’s the way things are done. Freelance forums typically have a bunch […]

Freelance Boot Camp: Writing queries that sell

Freelance Boot Camp: Writing queries that sell

Registration for the online version of Freelance Writer Bootcamp is currently closed. Sign up here to be the first to hear when enrollment opens up again.  It’s one thing to have a great idea for a story, another to know your dream markets, and something else entirely to know how to write a pitch letter […]

On My Bookshelf: It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario

On My Bookshelf: It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario

An afternoon shopping at New York’s Strand bookstore is an exercise in both decadence and restraint. Like most book lovers, I’ve back and forthed my reading habits to acknowledge the portability and economy of an e-reader. My criteria for buying physical books have become more specific: art and reference books, and out-of-print titles are the […]

Infographic: How to Become a Successful Freelance Writer

After hearing me describe the process of deconstructing a magazine to identify the most freelance-friendly sections, and how to customize a story idea, a student stared at me, with her mouth agape. “That sounds like a lot of work,” she said. Well, yes. But anybody who spends any time reading how-to-pitch type guides quickly hears […]

What to watch: Movies for the media

What to watch: Movies for the media

This trio of films have all found audiences with the general public, but may have particular resonance with journalists, photographers, and related members of the media. Finding Vivan Maier “Finding Vivan Maier” is both an introduction to the work of the prolific street photographer, as well as a dive into who she was and why […]

On my bookshelf: Solrevolution

On my bookshelf: Solrevolution

“My” new book has been published! I wrote the South African sections of Solrevolution, which has finally arrived from Sweden thanks to the South African postal strike ending. If Monocle were to create a coffee table book in Swedish about solar energy, this is what it would look like. Another post soon to come on […]

Coffee coffee buzz buzz buzz: What’s brewing?

Coffee coffee buzz buzz buzz: What’s brewing?

US alternative weeklies were still in their heyday back when I began writing for a living. Shortly after I left my day job (i.e., went from part- to full-time freelancing), I pitched a couple of arts ideas to an editor at The Washington Blade, who in return asked if I would be interested in a […]

Best of 2014: What I read, listened to, and watched

Best of 2014: What I read, listened to, and watched

Most journalists will tell you that one of the best parts of the job is speaking with people whom you wouldn’t otherwise get to meet–and of course, ask them all sorts of questions. One that almost always elicits genuine, passionate responses from creatives is, “What artists from other genres inspire you?” Today’s post is my […]

Trevor Noah joins The Daily Show

Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” has long had the curious position of being the primary news source for the majority of American youth. The Comedy Central staple’s newest correspondent is none other than South African comedian Trevor Noah: Can’t wait to watch his dispatches, which will hopefully include some filmed in South Africa.

Mandela’s South Africa

Mandela’s South Africa

Even when it’s expected, death still surprises. Prior to Mandela’s death, I had numerous conversations with editors about content that they wanted to have at the ready. It’s standard practice for news organizations to prepare obituaries of well-known people on file, but the preparations for Mandela were extreme. In the hours and days after the […]

On Instagram and Scooping Yourself

On Instagram and Scooping Yourself

This morning, after I’d briefed the photographer about the story in progress, we waited in the parking lot of a community hall for a source to arrive and escort us to a new location. I walked to the slightly crumbling mural of O.R. Tambo, snapped a photo, and posted it to my nascent Instagram account. […]

Pistorius sentencing and reporting come to an end

Since February 2012, when Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp, USA Today has asked me to go out and speak with those so-called regular people to get their take on the unfolding facts. Cell phones make person-on-the street interviews tough. Look around any public area: the people by themselves are invariably chatting on their mobile, or […]

Ebola as a geography teaching tool

On a nonstop flight from London Heathrow to Cape Town last week, I had to sign a compulsory new form stating that I didn’t have any ebola-like symptoms, and that I would notify … er, somebody, possibly the Department of Home Affairs, though they didn’t provide any sort of literature for me to take with, […]

The other B word

Posted in business, journalism
The other B word

My latest for Balanced Life is a piece about the hot B word, Bossy. As one of the women I interviewed said, “It’s not a case of being bossy. I am the boss.” Bossiness can sometimes be confused with bullying, which is psychologically more challenging to deal with–think sabotage, humiliation, and intimidation. According to the […]

Jerry Seinfeld: How to Write a Joke

The wronger it feels, the righter it is, says Jerry Seinfeld about joke writing.

Real success, real failure, real people

Real success, real failure, real people

On the ever growing list of “Who Remembers How These Things Worked Before the Internet?” is the finding of so-called real people for articles–that is, people who will speak on the record about their own personal experiences. Rather than an expert trend analyst who comments on data, these people are in fact a single data […]