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Hey there,

Today's interview is with Chris Jones. Chris is a long-time journalist, writing for Esquire, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, ESPN, and elsewhere. He's also a short-time screenwriter, most recently producing Away on Netflix.


Here's what he had to say about his writing journey so far.

Happy reading,
- Kaleigh Moore
Chris Jones, author, journalist, and writer
Tell us about you as a writer. What made you get into a writing career? What's your day-to-day like?

Um, I guess I'd say I feel born to do it. I never wonder whether I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, which I know is a luxury. I love writing, and I like different kinds of writing equally—books, magazine pieces, screenplays, Twitter.

I like writing about different subjects in different ways. It's like using different muscles for me. I can spend a long time working on something and be pretty happy about it. I never get tired of editing or polishing. I could do that forever.

I work pretty standard days—eight hours, something like that. I work from home generally, and I try to treat the work day like a work day. I'll move between projects, or parts of projects, depending on deadlines and how I'm feeling.

I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to make a good living as a writer for more than twenty years, adapting as times change—moving from newspapers to magazines to film to TV. It's not always been easy. I've sometimes felt like I'm constantly trying to outrun change, but at the moment, at least, I still have ground beneath my feet.

How are things different now within the world of professional writing? What's changed the most if you were to look back at when you started vs. today?

I mean, I'm old enough that everything has changed. I started in newspapers in 1998. The Internet was just becoming what it is today. Just about every aspect of how writing gets delivered to readers or viewers has changed. Even TV—streaming services are probably a bigger source of work than conventional TV at this point.

Only books haven't changed, but how we sell books has. I've followed the money, basically. I am a terrible career strategist, but I've done a pretty good job of figuring out what's about to become a better bet.

Tell us about your Twitter story threads.

The stories were an accident. I told a story early in the pandemic about a kid I went to high school with, Pete Simon, who saved me from certain humiliation. His wife found the story, and it went pretty viral. The next week I told another one, and it got another nice response.

Then I made it every Friday during the pandemic. For me, it was just my way of trying to help a little. Maybe two minutes of distraction for people, to lighten their mental load. I like trying to make people laugh. I like being that guy in a room, and I like being that guy on Twitter.

Weirdly, maybe, it's helped my other writing, too. Twitter demands that you're concise, that you use the active voice, that you get right into the heart of the story. Those are all good things to practice.

Most popular was my bleeding (or possibly peeing) on George Clooney's couch. Finding Ricky Williams in Australia is up there, too.

What's a common misconception about the work you do now?

A lot of people think I don't work much anymore, because my stuff comes out a lot less frequently than it did. When I wrote for Esquire, I was a steady presence. I work as much as I ever have, but I tend to be writing bigger things now, like books or TV and film scripts, and they just don't come out as much.

I worked a ton in 2020, and the only thing I worked on that actually came out was Away, a show on Netflix I helped write. That took years to surface. I've spent three years writing a book that won't come out until 2022. I'm playing a much longer game than I once did.

Do you prefer journalism work or writing books? Or teaching? Something else? Tell us about the work you've done that's been most fulfilling (and why.)

I like all of it, honestly. I like mixing things up. I don't particularly want to write only one way, or about only one subject. I like moving between them. I love teaching, too. I get a lot of energy from young writers, including students.

I don't want to sound like a goober, but there isn't an aspect of writing that I don't enjoy. I'm even enjoying filling out these answers, because I'm that much of an idiot. I can't stand when people complain about writing, because for me, that's like complaining about the greatest gift.

What's been your favorite thing you've written so far in life? What makes it special?

Probably a story for Esquire called The Honor System. It's a story about magic, a profile of Teller, but it's a trick all on its own. Writing something big, there are a lot of moving parts. It's pretty hard to make sure everything works. It rarely does. But that's one of those stories...Everything felt like it fell into place.

That's the dream, of course. You're writing late at night, music playing, and the words just flow out of you, and you write the last one, and put a period after it, and it lands with a pleasing little noise, like the sound a German car makes when you gently close its door.

What tips or advice do you have for fellow writers who are working to establish a sustainable, long-term career as a writer?

If you want to make a living as a writer, you have to treat writing like a job. I know a lot of writers think they're creating art, and some of them are. I've never been that precious about my stuff, because I'm not making art, really. I'm not making something transcendent. I know that about myself.

I was the weakest writer of sentences at Esquire. I try to make up for that by being a good reporter, by editing and polishing a lot, by being open to professional feedback, and being careful about things like structure and pace. I try to write stories with broad appeal, that people will read or watch and think, "I enjoyed that."

Speaking honestly, I want my stuff to sell. Money was tight when I was growing up, at least until my parents found their feet, and I see no romance in poverty. I want to keep doing this, and I want to be comfortable and feed my family, so I care about getting paid.

I don't believe there's such a thing as selling out. This shit is a business. Editors, producers, publishers, showrunners—they're my clients. I am eager to please them. I work hard, and I try to be the easy one, the one busy people don't have to worry about: "He's got this, he's fine."

That's what I want my bosses to say about me, and I think that's something for any writer to want to be said of him or her. You want to be the one who has a reputation for delivering good work, on time, without being a dickhead about it.
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