Re-summoning creative juices while recovering from sciatica and a lull in freelance projects, I just rediscovered some old articles that held up surprisingly well on the reread. So here are six of my favorite mag stories from over the years, annotated with thoughts about what I experienced while trying to write them (because I don’t expect to be interviewed by Terry Gross any time soon).
Presented in reverse chronological order.
A narrowly defined assignment with a lot of “suggested” topics to try to pull into a continuous narrative. The volume of interviews–usually a big stressor–was actually easier to handle here, since this was one of my first assignments as an unemployed lady, and I realized it’s much easier to schedule and conduct phone conversations from the comfort of your own living room, pacing.
Relatively easy, top-of-my-head, no-research essay. This was something I’d toyed around with in my head for a few years, and it was fun enough to assemble the details from 12 years of firsthand experience. But more than anything, I’m hardcore chuffed that the hockey folks have been so goddamn effusive about the final product.
Leading up to this experience, I hated that I had to go camping by myself, but in retrospect I would absolutely repeat it, right down to the three hours (not featured in the story) that it took me to get the fire going on the coldest night of 2016. I’m tickled at how the concept of Florida-ness and all the juxtaposition of imagery came together, which was just an accidental result of mulling things over for a week or two. (Also, in real life, the cave tours were actually sold out when I arrived, so the chronology of everything is reversed.)
“Investigative reporter” is a tricky title for me, considering I’ve done very few projects that required this much capital-J Journalism. And yet this is the only story I’ve ever gotten an award for, presented in the category of investigative reporting. I’m happy enough with the story itself–and I learned a ton doing the research–but I regret that a more intrepid Hannah could’ve made a much better meal of the whole topic.
Also, I still owe a couple of apologies, I think, for how cranky-stressed I was during the whole process.
Also-also, I can hear my editor’s voice in her reworking of the final graph, and that still twists my knickers.
Also-also-also, it seemed totally logical at the time, but the structure now catches my attention–the repeated chronology of events; telling the story, more than once, sort of, in overlapping sections. I dunno. Structure is a real stressor to me, and I always go about it awkward and organically, just putting one bit of information next to another to another to another, and rearranging according to what details seem to need to be revealed in what order. In this story, it’s not that it doesn’t work as-is. It’s just that I remember feeling comfortable with the order at the time, and that’s probably what seems weirdest to me most in retrospect.
Like a gut-punch is the memory of trying to put this together, an assignment both massive and with vague parameters, where a big chunk of the research involved walking up to strangers and trying to perform spontaneous interviews (*shudder*). Though I recall being happy with the writing in the end, I mostly associate this story, like the Charles McKenzie one above, with a sense of regret–ie “If I hadn’t been so overwhelmed with anxiety, I would’ve done a better job.” On the reread, however, I’m pretty impressed I kept it together. I half-expected the anxiety would have bled through to the writing.
This may have been my first big feature for the mag, and it required very little research beyond combing through memories, but I remember I agonized over the writing of it. I’m still surprised at how well it holds up. Twenty-six-year-old me did OK.