Jon Ronson on writing.

Journalism I'm clearing out my RSS feeds. Ruthlessly. Unsubscribing from the uninspiring and shifting anything non-essential to Likes and Following on Facebook and Twitter so that I can dip in and out of the information stream. A thousand odd unread posts on Google Reader is simply unacceptable.

Part of the process is catching up on what's there from the beginning. Only now have I reached the 12th November and this pretty frank interview with Jon Ronson on the subject of his writing and this particular passage about attempting to write about the credit industry is especially useful:
"But I couldn't do it. I spent three months and I just couldn't do it. And the reason was because I kept on meeting people who worked in the credit industry and they were really boring. I couldn't make them light up the page. And, as I said in The Psychopath Test, if you want to get away with wielding true malevolent power, be boring. Journalists hate writing about boring people, because we want to look good, you know? So that was the most depressing one. To the extent that I would like get up in the morning—I've never really told this to anyone, but I'd get up in the morning, I'd go downstairs to breakfast and I'd, like, look at my cereal and burst into tears. And then I'd think, it's only like nine hours until I can sit down and watch TV. After three months of that, I was thinking, I'm actually getting depressed here. So I abandoned it. My editor in New York keeps reminding me that, if I'd carried on with the credit-card book, it would have come out exactly when the banks collapsed and everyone would have turned to me. But I just couldn't do it."
My attitude to writing has somewhat been that every topic has an angle. My reaction to this was initially that the interesting thing about these people is that are so boring. But the problem is of course, if you're using them as sources, who can't necessarily say as much on the page.

Films like The Inside Job and This American Life's work on the topic are able to simply show the people being boring and infer everything else.  We get the idea simply from their existence on screen.  Whereas Ronson would have been in the impossible position of attempting to communicate that on the page.

This is a useful reminder to me too.  I was writing something for the blog the other night, something for the end of the year, and I simply couldn't get something to work.  I knew what I wanted to say, and I worked at it, and worked at it, and even after throwing out all sense of coherence (cf) and style, I still couldn't get the paragraphs and sentences to fit together.

Eventually, after having had a break, eaten dinner and watched a film, I realised that the reason was that I didn't entirely believe in what I was saying, or rather I was trying to building on something of far less interest than the bigger picture, so I hacked away, a thousand words gone and the piece is much stronger without them.  You'll see, I hope.

I wasn't happy about it.  I saw it as a failure of sorts and a reminder of why I'm not a professional writer.  But it's good to see that someone of the calibre of Ronson doesn't just have those fears but also able to see through them, even at a risk to their own career.  I just need to be more relaxed overall, I think.

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