The Only Way to Write It is to Live It

Sometimes, the only way to write something noteworthy is to completely submerge yourself in it. This is a tactic used by most writers, but especially by reporters and journalists.The writer I’m profiling, Nicholas Kristof, is a perfect example of this writing process.

Kristof has been known to report from the darkest corners of the world and completely immerse himself in the cultures of those around him. It is in these conditions that he produces his best work. “What changed me onto the trajectory that I ended up on is that I went out and was assigned abroad, lived a good chunk of my life abroad, and just encountered poverty, and that was just life-transforming,” Kristof told American Public Radio in 2010. “That once these issues become real and you see these things, you know, you can’t forget the people you meet and you want to try to make a difference in some way.” He will go to these places that the general public would find unpleasant and then shows that public what they’re ignoring.

Some journalists sit at a desk and compose pieces from email correspondence or interviews in a cozy coffee shop. Some journalists write when they’re living what they’re writing. However, that doesn’t necessary make one type better than the other. Do you take a silent oath as a reporter to risk your life for a good story? Or should you report from a distance?



3 thoughts on “The Only Way to Write It is to Live It

  1. stephaniebaur March 16, 2015 / 12:22 am

    I am profiling Daniel Handler (or Lemony Snicket), and he writes outrageously dreary fiction in the comfort of his home and cafes. He does not have to lock himself in a mildewy castle in the middle of a leech infested lake to get inspiration for his books. However, I think that this is only the case because he writes fiction. Nicholas Kristof’s choice to live what he writes makes perfect sense to me, because he is representing a reality– a reality so far removed from our own that unless someone who has been there explains it to us, we can never truly understand it. I think Nicholas Kristof does a noble thing by telling the stories that need to be told.


  2. alyssabrady March 19, 2015 / 2:23 pm


    Last year in my Principles of journalism class, my professor told the class that in order to be an extremely good journalist, we “needed to get our butts out there!” And I absolutely agree with him. How is a journalist supposed to get the best possible story if they are just sitting at their desk? My professor would always tell us that we need “shoe leather,” in order to be the best possible journalist. He meant shoe leather as in going out into the world and finding the story because that’s where the real stories are. I;m sure journalists can still be great if they are sitting at a desk but they can be BETTER if they surrounded themselves with the story. If they are seeing it with their own eyes, they will have a better chance explaining it to their audience. When you are out in the world, submerging yourself in the story, you will have better details, better sources and a better background.


  3. allenrowan2015 March 19, 2015 / 11:17 pm

    Journalism is not a lazy career path. Reporters are known to be in your face and even nosy at times. But they do this all in the name of accuracy. Their jobs are to discover the truth, and you can’t do that sitting at a desk or typing on a computer. Fictional writers have that luxury, as they rely on their imaginations. But journalists must go out of their way to ensure that they are delivering accurate facts and details. I was in journalism in high school, working as an editor on the school paper. At first I was uncomfortable having to interview so many people, but it really is an essential part of the job. Reporters MUST put themselves out there in order to be good at what they do.


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