Go There: Lessons In Writing From Dear Old Dad

Author:
Publish date:

BY ANDREW MARANISS

Andrew_Maraniss3_horz (1)

People assume that when your father is a Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author, he must have helped you a lot with your first book.

For a while, I thought he might, too.

I’d email first drafts of my chapters for “Strong Inside” to my mom and dad, and I soon discovered why the messages I’d get back only contained suggestions from my mother: my father understood from the very beginning that I’d feel a whole lot better about my book if I knew I did it without major input from him.

Which isn’t to say that he had no influence. His fingerprints are all over it, but more in the sense of lifelong lessons on reporting and writing: avoid clichés and unnecessary words; find the universal in the particular; do the reporting.

Growing up, the people who came to visit our house for dinner or picnics were mostly journalists—I’d sit around on the periphery of the conversations and listen to the joy everyone took in describing great lead paragraphs, or scooping the competition. (I also remember the time Bob Woodward brought my sister and I some 45-RPM records, including “Safety Dance,” and the time Sarah and I tried to trick John Feinstein into eating a dog biscuit). Growing up in the home of a Washington Post journalist meant reading a great newspaper every morning—and reading great writing is the best way to learn to write. (Another childhood memory: Each morning, I’d spread the Post out on the dining room table, read the sports section first, and our family sheepdog, Maggie, would hop up on the table, park her body on top of the rest of the paper, and then lap up the milk from my cereal bowl when I was nearly done. Wow.)

Feeling as through your creativity well is running a little dry? With The Write-Brain Workbook and Take 10 for Writers, you’ll get the words flowing again in no time! Over 1,000 combined exercises help you get into the habit of writing—and enjoy it! You’ll learn how to celebrate your own writing accomplishments; discover your own unique writing process; build momentum in your writing and overcome writer’s block. Regardless of genre, you’ll unleash your own writing passion with this Creative Writing Collection.

Y1726

My father did not become a published author until after I graduated from college, but one of the lessons I’ve picked up from him in this later stage of his writing career is the concept of “go there.” For him, that meant traveling to Vietnam for one book, moving to Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the winter for another, and flying to Kenya, Indonesia, Hawaii and Kansas for his bio of Barack Obama.

In my case, going there meant two things: seeing my adopted hometown of Nashville through the eyes of my subject, Perry Wallace, and trying to travel back in time to the 1960s in as many ways as possible. On the time-travel side, I set my satellite radio to the 1960s channel and spent my 45-minute commutes to my “day job” listening to the songs Wallace and his contemporaries would have heard while he was making history as the first African American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. I watched movies from the period, and read books about the Sixties that had nothing to do with Wallace’s story but shed light on the culture of the times in interesting ways (in addition to my dad’s many books that are set in the decade, one of my favorites was Mark Harris’ book, Pictures at a Revolution, on the five movies nominated for Oscars in 1967).

It was seeing Nashville through Perry Wallace’s eyes that produced the most valuable anecdotes for the book. I’ll forever remember the afternoon we spent driving around the town he left 44 years ago. He showed me the houses he grew up in, the parks he played in, the schools he attended. Driving past one house, he saw an old friend sitting on the front porch and jumped out of the car to say hello. Driving past a street corner in a now-fashionable part of town, he explained that in 1955, standing on that same corner, he had been stunned by a carload of white teenagers who pointed a gun out their window at him, pointing it, pointing it, pointing it, as the car slowly made its way around the corner. And as we drove past a baseball field, he asked me to stop the car. We got out, and he pointed to a thicket of rocks and trees behind the outfield fence. “See that rock?” he asked. “That’s where I sat and meditated over my decision whether to go to Vanderbilt.”

Suddenly I was standing next to Perry Wallace in the present, but also sitting next to him on that rock in 1966.

“Go there” indeed. Thank you, Dad.

Andrew Maraniss is the author of the new biography, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South. His father, David Maraniss, is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist for Washington Post and the author of 10 books.

MarannisNewCoverRGB

Follow Andrew Maraniss on Twitter @trublu24 and at his website, andrewmaraniss.com.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 19

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an animal title poem.

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Presenting the May/June 2021 issue of Writer's Digest featuring a collection of articles about how curiosity fuels writers, including the 23rd Annual 101 Best Websites for Writers and a new interview with Chris Bohjalian.

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Popular lecturer and biographer Joshua M. Greene discusses the hardship of writing the biographies of Holocaust survivors, and the biography that convinced him to continue writing.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: The May/June 2021 Issue, a Chance at Publication, and more!

This week, we’re excited to announce that the May/June 2021 “Curiosity” issue is now live in the WD shop, there’s still time to have your From Our Reader’s response selected for publication in the July/August 2021 “Bravery” issue, and more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 18

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an ekphrastic poem.

Personal Essay Awards

Announcing the First Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the first annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards!

From Script

Movie Theatres Return While Indie Cinema and TV Turns to Horror and Beyond (From Script)

In this week’s round-up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, read movie reviews from cinephile Tom Stemple. Plus, exclusive interviews with Amazon’s Them creator and showrunner Little Marvin, horror film Jakob’s Wife director Travis Stevens, a history lesson with Dr. Rosanne Welch about trailblazer screenwriter Anita Loos, and much more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 17

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a waiting poem.

GettyImages-119430542

Your Story #112

Write the opening line to a story based on the photo prompt below. (One sentence only.) You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.