{Secret Library Podcast} Susan Orlean on Making Writing Your Career

Susan Orlean | Secret Library Podcast | Photo by Kelly Davidson

I knew I loved Susan Orlean the moment she mentioned the Vikings.

Ok, I loved her writing already. Of course. And not many people get to say they’ve been played by Meryl Streep. But when I saw her speak on a panel as one of the contributors in Manjula Martin’s book Scratch and she said something to the effect of “Everything I needed to know about writing I learned from the Vikings,” she had my complete attention. In the ways that no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects the Vikings. I got her to tell this story on the episode and did a lot of listening to so many important things she shared. As smart as you think Susan Orlean is, I assure you that she’s even smarter than that.

Getting to discuss the reality of being a writer in a time of such change and transformation in the world of media and publishing was invaluable. The story of how Susan ended up at the New Yorker as a staff writer is absolutely worth the price of admission and anyone, I mean anyone, who has dreamed of being a writer as their job must listen to what she has to say about writing as a profession. Period. I haven’t been the same since. You won’t be either. See you on the other side… happy listening.

author photo: Kelly Davidson

Listen up on iTunes | Susan’s Skillshare Course | Website | Twitter

Show notes for Episode 44 with Susan Orlean:

  • Writing as a small business (3:40) Mentioned: Manjula Martin’s Scratch
  • The internet, getting published, and getting paid (4:15)
  • Being an artist and thinking about money (6:20)
  • The evolution from employee to independent contractor (7:15)
  • Life inspiration from the Vikings (7:40)
  • How to decide if it’s ok to publish something for free (11:45)
  • Growing into the label of Writer (15:00)
  • The path to the New Yorker (17:30)
  • On finding the right place for you (22:00)
  • How much the publication you write for can influence your voice and vice versa (23:15)
  • Getting the clips for the jobs you want and the Catch-22 of needing experience (25:15)
  • Knowing an idea is a book idea (29:10)
  • The experience of writing a book vs. an article (31:30)
  • The research process and note-taking (34:40) Mentioned: My Kind of Place
  • On working with fact-checkers (37:00)
  • What being a writer is & where meaning comes from (38:10)
  • The joy of writing about ordinary things (41:00)
  • The timeline of researching a piece & how to tighten it if needed (43:45)
  • Challenges of travel for writing (47:30)
  • The importance of writers supporting each other (48:30)

This episode sponsored by Scrivener and The Coffeeshop Writers Group


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Further Exploring

  • April 23, 2017 - 06:58

    Melissa Fu - Such a great episode – fascinating to hear about the process and timing of the grocery store piece. Now I’m curious to read it! Thank you both.ReplyCancel

    • May 2, 2017 - 21:08

      Caroline - I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Melissa! It was such a treat having Susan on. She’s an inspiration.ReplyCancel

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