Nonfiction Advice from Ted Conover

GABRINERPHOTO 9875 copyAs I finish writing and start editing my Seinfeld book, I’m re-reading Robert S. Boynton’s excellent The New New Journalism to get some ideas for what I still need to work on, how I want to edit, and so forth. As I cull some tips from some of my favorite nonfiction writers interviewed in the book, I figured I’d share a few of the tidbits that stuck out for me, starting today with one of my favorite authors, Newjack‘s Ted Conover. Some of his advice:

  • “I pay a lot of attention to place in my writing, so when I arrive in a new town I try to do what Lawrence Durrell recommended in his essay “Spirit of Place,” which is to get still as a needle, as he puts it.”
  • “I feel it’s important, in first-person nonfiction, to establish the narrator’s character as well as everyone else’s.”
  • “My ideal day starts after a good night’s sleep. The first thing I do when I wake up is make sure to spend enough time in bed to figure out what I’m going to write that day. A lot of my ideas take shape before I get out of bed.”
  • “I seldom spend more than a couple of hours at my desk without taking a walk or a run, doing errands, etc. In a productive day I may have three two-hour periods when I’m actually writing.”
  • “At the end of each day I type myself a brief note at the end of the manuscript, using capital letters, describing what I want to do the next morning.”
  • “I tend to get going in the late morning and am usually tired by late afternoon. I seldom write at night.”


  1. I love Ted Conover! He was definitely my favorite professor at NYU and his books are truly examples of great writing. I actually just recently wrote a review on my blog of one of his more recent articles about riding the rails with his son. Thanks for sharing these tips 🙂

      1. I imagine a few generations removed, the Conovers settled Manhattan before the British took over, originally Van Kowvenhouvwen changed to Conover

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