New Yorker’s Orlean: ‘Writing is equal parts heart & muscle’

I love this tweet I saw last week from New Yorker writer and author Susan Orlean: “Writing is equal parts heart & muscle: the heart to fall in love with a story you want to tell, the muscle to get it done.” That’s so true, especially when it comes to personal stories that mean a lot to us but take strength to write.

The tweet was part of a live Twitter chat that Orlean held. Here are a few other great tweets from the chat:

On writing, reading books:

“When a story keeps growing and growing and feels sweeping in some way, it starts to seem like a book idea. It’s a gut feeling.”

“Making the story your own is more important than being the first writer to tell the story. It has to have your heart in it.”

“Reading a book should be like sitting with a charismatic person who is telling you a wonderful tale, fact or fiction.”

On oral storytelling, reading drafts out loud

“In all the best writing, you feel the presence of a real person talking to you, even if it’s not first person.”

“That’s why I turn to oral story-telling as a model: the best writing should feel like conversation, not written.”

“That’s why I read my drafts out loud always: the best, cheapest, fastest way to self-edit. You hear the slow and awkward parts.”

“You hear where the rhythm is off, where the pacing flags. Reading it on the page will convey all that, too.”

“The story — and the voice follows, once I feel I know the story well enough to tell it.”

“You want to do that reading aloud somewhere no one can hear you, lest they think you’re insane.”

But, she also says: “I read to my husband, who is a great editor and sounding board. And brutally honest, at his peril.”

“I read my own audiobook; I wanted to. I’d rather hear the author unless he/she isn’t a good reader.”

On story ideas:

“Finding good stories is the single biggest challenge. You need to look outside what’s familiar to be surprised and intrigued.”

“Story ideas lurk everywhere. I try to read, listen, ask as much as possible to stumble on new ideas.”

“Then I try to educate myself. I try to learn everything I can about the subject first-hand.”

“I read and listen to things outside my usual interests, hoping something will spark my curiosity. I eavesdrop, too.”

On cats, (just for fun):

“I’m fighting with my cat right now, who has suddenly fallen in love with the keyboard.”

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at

One thought on “New Yorker’s Orlean: ‘Writing is equal parts heart & muscle’

  1. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto
    a coworker who had been conducting a little homework on this.

    And he actually bought me breakfast because I stumbled upon it for him…
    lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!

    But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this topic here on your site.

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