Last week, I returned to my alma mater, Boston University, for the Power of Narrative Conference. If you’re interested in long-form journalism, multimedia storytelling, or discussing the craft of writing with some of the best in the business, then you would probably love this three-day conference as much as I did.
I recapped breakout sessions by NYT’s Amy O’Leary and Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Laurie Hertzel for the Ebyline blog, but there were a ton of great quotes and insights from other sessions or keynotes too.
Here are a few highlights:
- On reporting constraints: “Don’t despair if you have a scarcity of resources. Sometimes if you have too much it can be daunting” ~Kelly McEvers, an NPR foreign correspondent based in Beirut Lebanon, during her keynote address Better than Fiction: Covering Arab Spring and its aftermath, one story at a time. McEvers shared stories about recording at a protests with an iPhone stuck in her sleeve and conducting interviews via skype through a secure internet connection. She also recalled (with plenty of irony) a government-sanctioned junked for journalists called “Syria is Fine.”
- On pacing a narrative: “The tragedy of narrative nonfiction is as soon as you have the reader’s interest, it’s time to digress.” ~Mark Kramer, writer-in-residence at Boston University and conference director, during a breakout session called A Primer on Pacing (pictured above).
- On editing and revising work: “Don’t just push the same old stuff around. Throw it away and start over.” ~Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning author, during a keynote address with Richard Todd On Editing and Being Edited.
- On showing gratitude to editors: “Your prose is not a gift to editors; remember to thank them for reading it.” ~Tracy Kidder, during a keynote address with Richard Todd On Editing and Being Edited.
- On the issue of nonpaying websites: “Look for places that are actually sending you money instead of spending two days blogging about your outrage. ~Richard Todd, former executive editor at The Atlantic, during a keynote address with Tracy Kidder On Editing and Being Edited. During the Q & A portion, an attendee asked Todd about the recent Nate Thayer/Atlantic issue.
- On the challenges of editing: “You can ridicule any piece of writing. What’s harder to do is to point out something that’s not working. ~Tracy Kidder during a keynote address with Richard Todd On Editing and Being Edited.
- On dealing with difficult editors: “Bitch at the bar, not at the editor.” ~Jina Moore, freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor and other outlets, during a breakout session with Charles Homans on How to Sell Stories in Multiple Media: Freelance 101.
- On comparing stories to photos: “If I were to take a picture of this, what would the picture be of?” ~Jina Moore during a breakout session on Turning Topics into Stories. Moore used the comparison to illustrate the sometimes tricky distinction between topics and stories.
- On the importance of networking: “Building your own network is like an insurance policy. It’s often a path to more work.” ~Ann Friedman, former executive editor of GOOD, during her closing keynote, How the Internet Killed My Job and Made Me a Star.
- On writing with personality: “As an editor, it’s easy to strip out voice but impossible to infuse it.” ~Ann Friedman during her closing keynote, How the Internet Killed My Job and Made Me a Star.