Brass Balls and Infinite Patience

Dorsey Kindler with William Langewiesche: Back in Davis, Langewiesche was about to finish his second Heineken when he mentioned one of his pet peeves – the mini-industry that had crept up around telling people how to write. It was mostly geared toward novelists, but it didn’t matter. The books could all be boiled down to one sentence: write well.

“There is no special club,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who your friends are. It doesn’t matter where you went to school. It only matters what you’re capable of providing now. Write well. Period. But of course if they said that there wouldn’t be that whole industry.”

Magazines, in Langewiesche’s opinion, are great beasts that have to be fed, constantly. If they’re not fed they die, and so they’re desperate for material. But they’re usually fed poorly. And people who say that the golden age is in the past are simply making excuses for their inability to write or publish high-quality journalism.

“You have this precious, incredibly privileged thing,” he said, “which is the reader’s attention for a little while. And you can make the slightest misstep and the reader will put you down. People will say that the reader lives in a busy world. But that’s not the reason why. The reason is that the writer blows it, and loses the reader’s trust.”

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3 thoughts on “Brass Balls and Infinite Patience

  1. Well done, Dorsey Kindler. Maybe the most fascinating passage was this one:

    Despite his natural acumen, Langewiesche does not want to be viewed as a straight news reporter. He considers himself an artist, a literary stylist, and is frustrated by the perception that musical language and matters of consequence are somehow at odds.

    “I do often write about subjects which reporters write about,” he said. “Because I want to be engaged with important matters in the world. What’s really happening. Because you know what? It seems so self-indulgent in a world of war, poverty, strife and the difficulties of change to be writing about the fall colors of Vermont.”

    I tend to agree with this pronouncement, despite its apparent severity.

  2. Langewiesche writes beautifully, one of the best. (If you want to see non-fiction raised to the level of high art, read the opening passages of “American Ground.”)
    But who’s he to say that in the long run Vermont leaves aren’t as important as piracy in the South Pacific? The problem is not in the subject. It’s in the writing.

  3. You mean try to pitch or have a story edited that you think is beautiful and subtle and newsworthy all at the same time, that you spent hours reporting and even longer writing, only to have an editor reject, cut it up or tell you not to ‘back into the story’ with a non-inverted pyramid lede?

    No, never happened.

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