The Biggest Writing Challenge I’ve Ever Faced

It surprised even me

Susan Orlean

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Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

A lot about writing is hard. Starting a piece is hard. Ending a piece is hard. Doing research can be tough. Figuring out a structure for a story is nearly impossible. The one thing I’ve always found easy is finding the confidence that the story was worthwhile and that it was important to write it.

That confidence is fundamental. In fact, I couldn’t do what I do without it. I write a lot of stories that, at first glance, seem non-essential: Profiles of orchid poachers, dog actors, decades-old library fires, chicken farming, ten-year-old suburban kids, girls who like to surf. These stories are not burning up the newswire; great matters of state will not be affected by them. To me, though, they’re meaningful stories. They document the human experience, and peer into other lives, and reveal truths about who we are, and illustrate the richness of humanity, and are sometimes just fun to read, and are sometimes going to make you cry, and always, I hope, deepen the readers’ knowledge of lives outside their own.

When I start working on a story or book, I am absolutely enflamed with certainty about it — I am convinced that it absolutely has to be written. More precisely, I am convinced that I have to write it, right away. I don’t know where I find that confidence, but I know I’m lucky to…

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Susan Orlean

Staff writer, The New Yorker. Author of The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and more…Head of my very own Literati.com book club (join me!)