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

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

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.”