Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘writing

How to write an article you’ve never written before

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Over the years I’ve written about various disparate subjects. They’ve ranged from 1500-word features on economics to interview-based features, short travel pieces and investigatory video game essays. Sometimes you’ll write pieces which you have no clue how to write, how to structure it, what to put in.

In these cases, what I do is very simple. I was reminded of this when I read an online article in The New Yorker. It is about author Akhil Sharma and the 12 years he spent producing a novel: “After writing seven thousand pages over twelve and a half years, I now have a novel, published this week, that is two hundred and twenty-four pages long”.

The piece focuses on the technical challenges that Sharma faced writing his novel. It deals with what I believe writing can tend to be – a series of technical puzzles.

In these instances, it’s best to follow Sharma’s method:

“When I run into technical challenges, I look to writers who are not only better than I am but better than I ever probably will be. All I needed to do, therefore, was find novels that shared some of the same DNA as my book”.

I’m not comparing my journalism to the art of his fiction making. But what he said rung true. When I am unsure of how to achieve something, whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph or an article, I’ll often find prior examples, articles with similar subjects, and read. I’ll read it closely, and I’ll read it to study.

New territory

Recently I have not been so focused on pure journalism. I have in fact focused more on nonfiction. It is a fine distinction. Nonfiction tend to be essays, first-person pieces, memoir and narratives that don’t have a solely journalistic focus. Trying to make it as a writer, I feel nonfiction offers some of the creative freedom of fiction and the possibility of some personal renown.

You always have to aim upwards. I published a piece of nonfiction, but it was unpaid, and am now looking for paying outlets. Bigger and better.

Writing is a craft. And people may think writing just happens. But they don’t see the years of reading, of the early amateur practice pieces and the careful note-taking of other people’s sentences, the visual diagramming of how to put together an article.

But at least in journalism, there’s no sacrifice as equal in measure as Sharma’s: “The book took twelve and a half years of my life and I am not sure if it was the right investment of my time”.

The Greatest Article about Freelance Journalism Ever Written

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The author of the article is a guy who has won awards – who freelanced a front page splash for the New York Daily News. A guy who wrote crazy opening sentences about ‘boobies and gay Jews’ in the New York Times.

Someone who freelanced for seven years. And then got a job at Gawker.com and quit after the first day. Who once got paid $100 a word but who other times is so poor their dinner is a soup made from vitamin pills. Who once wrote entire features on a first-generation iPhone for almost a year, because they couldn’t afford to replace a broken laptop. Without further ado, here it is:

Seven Years as a Freelance Writer, or, How To Make Vitamin Soup.

It is a piece of writing that inspires me every time I read it. And it makes the thrill of chasing a story, of pursuing bylines and writing, the very act of writing, seem like the most rock’n’roll fucking thing you can do. Richard Morgan, I salute you!

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

November 1, 2013 at 12:00 am