Believing When No One Else Does
As a young journalist, I was fascinated with the writing and life of Gay Talese. As one of the founders of “new journalism” in the 1960s, his commitment to the craft of writing has been something that I’ve found inspirational. Now at age 74, Talese will release a new book later this month called A Writer’s Life. In the April 3rd issue of Publisher’s Weekly, one of the feature stories was called “Talese Gets the Story.” Some times the subjects of Talese’s writing are completely different than anything I would tackle as a writer or editor. Never the less, I’m attracted to his commitment to craft and excellence.
In the PW profile, Karen Holt recounts a story where Talese spent a lot of time and energy on a piece which never appeared in print. I recognized the story because many times it’s happened to my writing life. I’ve chased a particular topic, interviewed a bunch of people, created material and for one reason or another, the project never reached the intended reader. There are many different reasons why a particular story never worked out. I was intrigued with this well-known journalist’s answer to the question. Here’s a couple of probing paragraphs from this profile (which you can read online to see it all):
“I ask him what it takes to invest so much in a piece of writing, knowing it may never make it into print. “What you have to do is believe that what you’re doing is really important. Not that anyone else believes it,” he says. “And this is what A Writer’s Life is about. The odyssey of a writer.”
It’s a good answer, though a little too smooth, so I press. The word “obsessive” comes to mind, but I cop out with the more polite, “Does it take a kind of faith?”
He considers the word “faith” for a moment. “What it takes beyond faith is the willingness to be out of print and the willingness to be off the radar screen without any public acknowledgment that you are a writer,” he says.”
Isn’t that the life of a writer? You create and pursue stories and words with an internal belief. You believe that the words and the story are important—even when no one else believes it.