I had an informal meeting the other day with a few of the editors at Boston Magazine to discuss stories for the Fall/Winter. I say informal because we didn't schedule the meeting (I just sort of wandered over to one of the editor's cubes, and the other editor happened to walk by and decided to join the fray --the Fray?--) and I was (probably) wearing a ring spun cotton distressed t-shirt with some sort of clever saying on it. Point being, sh*t was casual.
The start of the meeting went something like this:
"Kev, you need to write some sweet stories."
"Yeah, but I don't want to do something standard. I want to, like, infiltrate a sub-culture or something."
"Fine, yeah. I'm with you. What did you have in mind?"
"Ok. Be specific."
"I dunno, but i bet some sh*t goes on in Cambridge."
"What type of sh*t?"
"Uh... edgy, counter-culture type sh*t."
"Yeah. That's not a story idea."
Eventually, joined by the other editor, things got more specific. The editors tried to convince me to do stories that required investigative journalism and phone calls and I tried to convince them that I should do (hilarious!!) essays with little to no reporting. (Note: story ideas have been changed to protect their awesomeness and ensure that someone else doesn't pitch them, sign the contracts and get the money that I need to pay for the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia DVD I just purchased off Amazon)
"What about you trying to take down this major Boston institution? I mean, that's the type of story that makes a writer's career."
"Hmmmm. What about if I write a 'Where is He Now' profile of Rick Astley? But not even like a profile, more like an essay about where I think he is now..."
"Rick Astley? The singer from the 80s? Is he even from Boston?"
"I'm sure he's been to Boston."
This back and forth is a central part of the story-creation process. When I was younger I was so happy just to be getting paid to write that I would feign enthusiasm for pretty much anything, and come away with contracts for stories that I not only wasn't very amped up about, but also didn't really understand. Of course, unless you're named Mitch Albom or working part-time for a hedge fund, the reality of the situation is you probably need money, and sometimes you have to do things strictly to keep your electricity/DVR working. But--as I've said repeatedly-- one of my only strengths (aside from being devastatingly modest) is that I am now very aware of my limitations as a writer and no longer feel that familiar Catholic-tinged guilt of my youth when I turn down an idea that I know I wouldn't be best for anyway.
Anyway, we did eventually come up with several story ideas to pursue that sated both parties and I left feeling productive and principled. Plus, being hypothetically flush with cash from my new contracts, I spent the rest of the day on iTunes, downloading the remaining eight Rick Astley tracks I had yet to purchase and poking people on Facebook. Win-f-ing-Win.
Stay tuned later on this week for a sweet very short but completely essential writing quiz.