How To Report

I tried uniformly applying a variety of “systems” — note cards, wall-sized outlines, all kinds of things. Color-coding and cross-referencing may or may not have been involved. I may or may not own a triple hole-punch. Ultimately, though, I felt I was spending more time playing reporter/writer than being reporter/writer — the systems search, I realized, was a form of procrastination. Here’s what I do now, and it’s very basic: Bring the scraps back to the nest, arrange them chronologically, develop a timeline that shows everything more clearly, and then build out from there, hewing to that backbone yet following each thread to its known end. That’s just an organizing principle, not the same as story structure.

— This interview with Paige Williams, who most recently wrote that terrific dinosaur fossils story in the New Yorker, will restore your faith and calm your fears! Everyone is a hot mess, from Gay Talese’s crazy shirt-boards on down — and it just doesn’t matter! Now I feel so much better about my own terrible non-system! (via)