Developing as a Writer


One of the coolest things about working for GoNOMAD is editing stories by people from all walks of life all over the world, including our bright and lively college interns. You get to see people develop as writers.

GoNOMAD has been a springboard for many writers whose work you might see in the New York Times or the Atlantic Monthly.

We have some writers for whom English is a second language and some who are dyslexic and will never be able to spell, and even if they use a spell checker, they’re going to miss homonym problems like plane/plain, bear/bare and compliment/complement.

That’s why I thank my lucky stars every day that in the 21st century, there is still a need for good old fashioned copy editing.

Some of our most prestigious writers don’t actually know what constitutes a complete sentence, and you know what? It would take a heck of a lot longer to explain it to them than it does to tidy up their copy. For me, after twenty years as a print journalist and speech writer, it’s like rolling off a log. Their meaning is always clear and it’s easy to elucidate it.

It’s better for the writers to go on writing great stories without having to worry about some arcane body of grammatical rules. You can always find an under-employed ivy leaguer to fix it up for you.

What I just noticed, looking over my Houston story, and I never thought about this before, was how I myself am developing as a writer. I noticed how different writers have influenced my style:

Kent St. John, dangling over Macau or dancing in the bedouin camp like Elaine on Seinfeld. Max Hartshorne floating through a luminescent Hungarian cave or going the full monty at a nudist resort in California.

Sony Stark sleeping on a park bench in Quebec City or fighting off army ants in a Buddhist temple in Vietnam, Paul Shoul savoring tapas in a bar in Bilbao or checking out the Basque community in Boise, Idaho.

Or Janis Turk’s brilliant story about New Orleans Rising, or Marina Solovyov walking the Way of St. James, or Roman Skaskiw climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, Matt Kadey’s bike stories, Mridula Dwivedi’s treks, Kelly Westhoff’s quest for the fabled Ombu tree…

And David Rich — the second story he sent us was called “Call Me Tammy.” He had been to Bike Week in Sturgis, South Dakota (half a million Harleys) but he came in riding on the back of someone else’s bike, so the Harley hags called him a Tammy. He wore it like a badge of honor and I said right there and then that I was going to put this guy’s stories up exactly the way he sent them, a decision I have never regretted.

What I realized looking over my own stories was how much all these writers have changed the way I write. They all have their own unique ways of putting themselves in their stories, because, without that. all you’ve got is a Wikipedia entry.

But if you get to the sixteenth paragraph of your story and you still haven’t said where you are or what you’re doing, that might be a good sign that you’re oversharing.

All these GoNOMAD writers walk that line in their own way, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to work with them because it fosters my own development as a writer.

For one thing, I’m braver. “Be bold,” my friend Vernon advises. “Strong unseen forces will work in your favor.”

Like in my latest story I say “What I took away from my visit to Houston was the city’s relaxed atmosphere that allows everybody to be themselves.”

That’s incorrect. It should be “him or herself.”

For those who would insist on grammatical exactitude, I have a scholarly rejoinder based on exhaustive studies of the American idiom:

“I’m talking American here, buddy. You got a problem with that?”