Caitlin Flanagan's name written across a stack of magazines


How can I contact you ?

Do you come up with your subjects yourself or do editors come up with them?

This is the most asked question. I think that's true for most essayists. I would say that the answer is about 50/50. It's wonderful to come up with something I'm really interested in and then spend a couple of months or more following it to the end of the earth. And it's also flattering to be contacted by an editor who is very interested in a subject, and who asks you to spend some time puzzling it out. It's nice to think someone believes your answer to a question would be worthwhile. What I don't do well are assignments that come with a theory or belief that an editor holds and wants advanced in an essay. Women's magazines are often composed of such essays; it's a perfectly logical way to create a magazine; but I am notoriously bad at fulfilling those requests.

What advice would you give a beginner looking to write long form nonfiction journalism?

Read, read, read. Work your way through Orwell, at least the dozen or so most famous essays. (Read "Politics and the English Language;" "Such, Such Were the Joys;" "Raffles and Miss Blandish;" "Why I Write;" "Shooting an Elephant."). Go to the library and get the last ten issues of Harpers, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic, and read the big essays. Read Tom Wolf's introductory essay to the essay collection called The New Journalism and take notes. Go online and take Susan Orlean's Skillshare class on how to write a reported essay. Then read her collected essays. If you keep reading the great writers, you will get closer and closer to what you need to know.

What advice would you give a beginner looking for an assignment?

The best piece of advice I can give you is this: don't get discouraged. They have to let somebody write these things, why shouldn't it be you? You're not too old, you're not too young, you're not too much of an outsider. Your biggest adversary is your own tendency to get discouraged. But if you keep throwing pebbles against the palace gates, sooner or later someone will let you in.

Who influenced you growing up?

Nancy Sinatra; Bernadette Devlin; Cesar Chavez; Seamus and Marie Heaney; Jane Fonda; Conor Cruise O'Brien; Joan Didion; Grace Slick; Mary McCarthy; Jane Birkin; Máire Mhac an tSaoi; Huey Newton; Randolph Apperson Hearst; Sister Kathleen Rose; Stephen Greenblatt; and – each in very different ways – my parents and sister.

What is your writing schedule?

I write every day. Most of what I write – like 90% of it – I don't use. But every single day, unless I'm sick or traveling, I get up and write.

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