Interview with Mark Danner: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Being a Writer: Conversation with Mark Danner, staff writer, The New Yorker; 3/3/99 by Harry Kreisler.

Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 7 of 7

Advice to Students

What would you tell young people who want to become writers? What are the attributes of someone with this calling, pursuing it in the way you are pursuing it?

If they have the calling, they don't need to be encouraged necessarily. They feel it and want to do it. I would tell them to read. You write with your ears. You write with your ears. That is, you must read and read and read and read the best sort of writing you can so that you have in your head the dance of words. And you should spend a lot of time doing that. If you are majoring in mass communications or something like that -- I hope all mass communications majors will forgive me, because I just use that as an example -- I would switch to history or to English or philosophy. I would get a liberal arts education in which you learn how to read well, you learn how to understand the world insofar as you can, you learn about the humanistic history of Western culture, and I would do an awful lot of reading and I would read the paper. And I would start writing in a journal; I would try each day to put words on the page because the greatest problem, of course, is each day sitting down and putting words on the page. At least it is for me. There are others for whom that is not a problem, and I envy them. I really envy them! I wish I could say they were all terrible, but you do have people who are amazing writers who are incredibly productive. I don't know how they do it, and I envy them enormously. But I would write and I would read. Those are the two things I recommend people do.

Mark, thank you for taking time to be here today, and thank you for joining us for this Conversation with History.

My pleasure. I enjoyed it.

© Copyright 1999, Regents of the University of California

To the Conversations page.

See also: a "Mark Danner practicum" on The Art of the Rewrite -- how a writer edits his words for publication (taken from this interview); a second interview with Danner, Ideas and Leadership in US Foreign Policy (May 1999); and the Mark Danner home page, including links to articles by Danner.