Facts & phones

I spent a morning recently rolling turkey meatballs while listening to James Altucher’s podcast interview with writer Rich Cohen. Altucher mentioned that Cohen had inserted himself as a character into his recent book The Sun & The Moon & the Rolling Stones.

Cohen gave a nod to two great writers for The New Yorker, the legendary Joseph Mitchell and Ian Frazier. But then he said something that drove me straight to my keyboard (after washing the meatballs off my hands):

“The crisis for non-fiction writing, and it’s a crisis, unacknowledged, which is similar to what painters faced when photography came in. Here’s something, everyone’s got a phone; they’re filming this stuff all the time. What does a non-fiction writer have to give? What they have to give is not just a sense of what happened but of what it felt like and what it meant and where it fits into the whole big picture of our society.”

Think about that the next time you stand up to read a bunch of facts. The next time someone hands you an eye-chart of a PowerPoint slide. People don’t need you to give them data points; they can get those  anywhere. What you provide—and what only you can provide—is your take on the data and facts. What story do they tell? What emotions do they evoke? What does it all mean, in the long run?

  • storytelling
  • writing