When the Writer Wanders

In the last few years, I've undertaken some trips that revolve around writing. An investigative journalism conference in New Orleans. A storytelling conference at Yale. A month-long writing residency at the Carey Institute for Global Good. And another residency on Martha's Vineyard. There were pluses and minuses for all of them, but here are a few reflective thoughts.

Just go. I spent a fair amount of time trying to talk myself out of all these adventures. Because that's what they are: adventures. Here's what writers do too much of: think, talk themselves out of things, and sit at a desk. Whenever you're doing pretty much anything that isn't what you usually do but is in service of you, you're doing the right thing. You will concern yourself with real concerns: money, time, guilt, etc. But there are ways to manage all of these things. Once you start executing your plan, and, better yet, once you find yourself there, you will sense on some level, hopefully, that you're doing the right thing. Why it's the right thing may not be clear right away.

You take the bad. There were things I deeply didn't like at some point during these adventures. The investigative journalism conference was: not freelancer-friendly, overpopulated by FOIA nerds bragging about their data-driven discoveries, attended by a certain number of on-air news personalities including women wearing sleeveless dresses in primary colors. I felt like a dateless dipshit at the prom for much of the time. But it meant I got to spend several days doing nothing but thinking of myself as an investigative journalist. I learned a lot: about how to do those FOIAs, about how to win a Pulitzer, about how to be who I am.

You take the good. My favorite experience was the residency at the Carey Institute. It was in this amazing rural area in upstate New York, and the trees were aflame with autumn. We were the first group in the program, and it had this air of bristling excitement. I was woefully underproductive on the page--or so it seemed at the time. But that was the start of the journey that's taken me to the place I am today. And that? It feels like a good place to be.

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