The Best Advice I Got From Awl Editors, Ranked

I wrote a lot of stories for The Awl and read many more published under its aegis; I could not even begin to measure its influence on me, though it is probably matched by that of its rougher and slightly more psychotic older cousin. Soon it will be dead, and that’s fine. It happens! It’s sad, but it’s fine.

Every time I wrote something for The Awl, I got a little bit better—every time I fucked up, every time I thought I had crafted a really delightful sentence only to find it deleted, every time I stumbled upon some fact about capitalism or New York City in the course of my novice reporting that would have been incredibly obvious to a more veteran journalist but which delighted or shocked or outraged me. Whatever talent or skill I have as a writer and reporter, I owe to the care shown me by the good stewards of that website.

If I were just starting out today, I don’t know where I would go; I don’t know where the editors are who are taking chances on young writers, fueled almost entirely by anger and confusion and lacking anything resembling experience. I am sure they are out there, but the Internet is different than it was five years ago; digital media is different than it was five years ago. So, rather than adding another weepily turgid lament to the growing collection, I will share some (anonymized) advice I received from Awl editors while writing for them—ranked, naturally.


9. “Make it more like The New Yorker.”
8. “The end is usually somewhere around the middle.”
7. “Keep it frothy!”
6. “Put the best stuff at the top, the second-best stuff at the end, and everything else in between.”
5. “I found the easiest way to write for The New Yorker is to write like you’re writing for The New Yorker. Like, you just imagine the tone, and do it. And that seemed to work? You just had to understand what animates the tone, which is complete unambiguity—that is The New Yorker secret. It’s why everything is long. It assumes everybody knows nothing, but can understand everything. That, and 40 people read everything before it goes to print. But that’s the animating quality of its style. The house rule against indirection basically explains everything. Once you get that, you get the New Yorker style.”
4. “Who are you mad at?”
3. “What did you learn?”
2. “You are the least interesting part of the story.”
1. “Blogging is for suckers.”

Thank you, Balk, Choire, John, Matt, and Silvia, for everything. RIP.

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About the author

Brendan O'Connor

Reporter, Special Projects Desk

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