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(Previously appeared in the newsletter by Famous Writing Routines)

Welcome to this edition of The Weekly Writing Dispatch, where we are delighted to welcome esteemed American journalist, author, and screenwriter, Matt Bai.

With an impressive background covering politics for major news outlets such as The New York Times and Yahoo News, Matt has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of political journalism. In this interview, he discusses his book All The Truth Is Out, which explores the week politics went tabloid and its effects on American politics and media. He also shares his insights on the evolving relationship between politics and media and the process of co-writing the screenplay for The Front Runner, based on his book.

We hope that this interview will not only offer valuable insights into the creative process but also encourage readers to explore their own writing and connect with the literary community. So sit back, relax, and join us as we dive deep into the mind of one of America's most accomplished political writers.

Hi Matt, welcome to Famous Writing Routines, great to have you here with us today! Your 2015 book, All The Truth Is Out, explores the week politics went tabloid. Can you tell us more about the inspiration for this book and how you went about researching and writing it?

I’m honored to be asked, so thanks for having me. I think your site is very cool.

Sometimes you don’t choose stories so much as they choose you, if that makes any sense. I met Gary Hart twenty years ago now, and the few days I spent with him then really stayed with me, especially as I watched our political culture deteriorate. I became convinced there was a connection to be made there, something more that needed to be said. It became a kind of obsession. I sat with the idea for several years, but I probably wrote it in eight months.

What do you think were the long-lasting effects of the Hart affair on American politics and media?

The book ended up being a critique of my own industry, but I didn’t realize that until I was finished. I feel like that moment in 1987 was a turning point for political journalism — it’s when we started treating our politicians more like celebrities. And if you treat politicians like celebrities, you will inevitably get celebrities as politicians. That was my central point, and of course I never imagined how literally that would come to pass with Donald Trump.

In your opinion, how do you see the relationship between politics and media evolving in the future?

Well, that’s more clairvoyance than opinion, and I’m not a very good clairvoyant. Right now I feel like it’s very broken — I used to spend tons of time with politicians, and I don’t think any reporter can really do that anymore. I also feel like they flat out lie more often than they used to. It’s really up to the voters to decide whether that’s something they care about.

You co-wrote the screenplay for The Front Runner which is based on the book. Can you tell us more about that process? How did it feel to see your work adapted into a feature film starring a major Hollywood actor like Hugh Jackman?

That was really one of the great experiences of my life. “Magical” is the word that comes to mind. Hugh is an amazing person and actor, and Jason Reitman became a good friend and taught me a ton about screenwriting. Everyone associated with the film had a blast making it.

It’s a shame that very few people saw the picture, or even knew about it, but commercial success is something you just can’t control, in books or movies or any kind of writing. I always recommend the film to people because I think it’s excellent and one of Hugh’s best performances.

Your work often explores the intersection of politics and culture. How do you think these two areas of our lives influence one another, and why is it important to examine that relationship?

That’s true. We tend to describe our politicians as leaders, but actually they’re followers, and that’s by design. Our government is designed to be responsive to the mood of the people — however the country is changing, Washington is almost always the last to reflect it. So if you want to know where politics is headed, you need to understand the trends in business and technology and entertainment. I try to connect all that.

You currently write a column for The Washington Post. How do you decide what topics to write about each week, and how do you approach writing about political issues in a way that’s accessible to a broad audience?

Most often I see something in the news and it jars a thought or a memory, and an argument takes shape. Sometimes my editors will have a topic they’d like me to think about, which I like. I’ve always written about politics — in magazines or books or columns — as if I were speaking to a friend, someone with a genuinely open mind who wants to wrestle with the complexity of an issue, as I do. I know a lot of columnists now make their living preaching to the same choir over and over. Honestly, that would bore the crap out of me.

In addition to your work as a journalist and author, you’re also a screenwriter. How do you think writing for the screen differs from other forms of writing, and what do you enjoy about the process of writing for film?

I never really aspired to be a screenwriter, but now I love it. It’s incredibly fun as a writer to be able to learn a new format and get better at it. And I enjoy being untethered from reality for a change. Plus you don’t get to write sex scenes in a column.

As a seasoned journalist and author, what advice would you give to aspiring writers and journalists looking to make an impact in the industry?

I think that’s a way of saying I’m old? I actually struggle with this question. The economic models have changed so much that I just don’t understand how people get started in the business now. How do you teach people to be reporters when there aren’t any small papers? How do they learn to be great writers when “longform” can be 500 words? I think if I were starting out now, I’d be laser focused on finding a talented editor who could help me refine my skills. Where you write is less important than for whom you write. The craft doesn’t teach itself.

Can you tell us about your writing routine? What does a typical day look like for you?

One of the things I love about my current existence is that there is no typical day. Some days I’m a columnist. Some days I’m a screenwriter. Some days I’m driving my kids to sports or the doctor. Today I answered reader mail and talked with my Post editor about a long essay I’m finishing, and then I worked with my producer on a movie pitch we’re doing, and now I’m talking to you. Pretty great, right?

My writing routines changed when we adopted a puppy during the pandemic. Now I spend mornings at the dog park, and then I eat breakfast and read the papers and do the Times crossword, and then I’m pretty much using the rest of the morning to organize my thoughts and exercise. Afternoon is when I’m usually cranking away on something. Most writing happens in your head, anyway, and not on the page, so even when I’m walking my dog, I’m getting work done.

If you could have a conversation with any author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be?

Probably Bob Dylan. He’s the famous person I haven’t met whom I’d most like to meet (followed closely by Derek Jeter). I’m just fascinated by how that kind of genius operates. Like, is he sitting at his kitchen counter and suddenly “Tangled Up in Blue” pops into his head? Or is he fiddling with a melody and then has to find a story for it? I think such a large part of creativity is just learning to clear your head long enough for the words or ideas to make themselves heard.

I’d love to know about the books you’re reading at the moment. What have been some of your favorite recent reads?

I recently read Ian McEwan’s Lessons, which was beautiful, and I’ve got a few pages left in Andrew Sean Greer’s Less, which I’ve really enjoyed, too. In between those two, I read Bo Jackson’s autobiography from the 1990s, and I also read an advance copy of Mark Bowden’s forthcoming book, Life Sentence, which is absolutely brilliant.

Sometimes when I read something not good, it throws me out of my reading groove and I have trouble getting restarted. That’s when I reach for Haruki Murikami, who can always pull me into a story immediately. Most recently I read 1Q84, which is wild. Murikami taught at Tufts not long before I was a student there, and I really wish I’d been able to take his class, so he’s another famous writer I’d like to meet.

What does your current writing workspace look like?

I have a standing aspiration to go paperless, but I never quite get there. So my desk of the last 20 years — a Danish modern thing I bought at a consignment store in Washington — consists of a 24-inch Mac, a laptop, and some piles of paper related to various projects.

I’m also drowning in books, even though I tend to read digitally now, because people keep sending them to me. On my walls I’ve got a couple of framed New York Times Magazine covers, and the first Times crossword in which my name was an answer, and some “Front Runner” memorabilia.

My office is off the entrance to our house, and my desk faces the door, so my kids can’t slip in or out without having to say hello or goodbye, which is how I like it.


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That is the question, indeed, especially these days. So, what is true about the last two articles posted here? Let’s break it down into the positives and negatives by looking at each article side by side.

  • On the plus side, the article by Chat GPT had some objective and factual points made, it was written in very little time, and at almost no cost… but overall, felt very two-dimensional. It came across as quite impersonal. It might have listed a few obvious almost mechanical, elements, but with very little soul.

  • The author’s article, on the other hand, was very personable, conversational, and intriguing. Actual examples came to life with the author’s retelling of his lived experiences. This creates for a more relatable read. We champion Victor Prince for his ability to try something deemed difficult after succeeding at challenging himself previously hiking across Spain.

Where the AI bot may shine:

  • AI can write articles at a much faster pace than humans, which can be an advantage in the fast-paced and demanding world of content creation. With AI, businesses can generate a high volume of articles or blog posts in a short amount of time, for very little cost.

  • AI-generated articles can be free from human biases and errors. Human writers are prone to making mistakes, but with AI, there is less room for error–however, it is not infallible and must be fact checked by a human and checked for plagiarism. AI can also eliminate any bias that may exist in human-written content, making it more objective and reliable.

  • Time is definitely an advantage with AI, which can analyze vast amounts of data to generate insights and different perspectives. By analyzing data from various sources, AI can identify patterns and trends that may not be immediately obvious to humans, in next to no time. This can lead to the creation of more informative and practical articles than would be humanly possible in the same amount of time.

  • AI can produce articles on a variety of topics, even those that are not commonly covered. With AI, businesses can create content on niche topics that may be hard (though not impossible) to find a human writer for.

  • AI can help reduce the costs associated with content creation. With AI, businesses can save money by not having to pay a human writer to create content.

In favour of the author:

  • AI-generated articles do lack the hallmarks of human touch and thus achieves no emotional connection with readers. Human writers can connect with readers on an emotional level, which is hard for AI to replicate. This can make AI-generated content seem stale, cold, impersonal and even robotic.

  • AI cannot understand the cultural nuances and context necessary to write effectively for a particular audience. Different cultures have different ways of communicating, and AI simply cannot pick up on these nuances. This can lead to content that is just not relatable, or even interesting enough, to the target audience.

  • While AI may produce articles that are factually correct, they clearly are not as engaging or interesting to read. AI may well be able to produce informative articles, yet it fails to create content that is equally engaging or truly captures the reader's attention.

  • While it may be tempting, businesses will need to resist the urge to rely on AI-generated content instead of creative content from human writers. As businesses increasingly turn to AI for content creation in order to cut costs, they run the risk of alienating their audience if they are not careful.

  • AI-generated articles may lack the creativity and originality that human writers can bring to the table. Only human writers are able to bring their unique perspectives and experiences to their writing, which makes for lively, interesting and engaging content.

Afterall, when the reading audience is human, which it invariably always is, the skill of a creative human author tips the scale in its favour.

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(as written by a human)

Victor Prince shares lessons he's learned in achieving his life goal—to write a business book— in his 40s after having it on his bucket list for years.

As previously posted in LinkedIn by Victor Prince on July 30, 2015

I’ve had the “I want to write a book some day” item on my bucket list for a long time. Then life happened, and I found myself in my 40s without a book to my name. Last week, my first

book officially released, and, based on pre-sales that have put it on Amazon’s Top 10 Hot New Releases, it looks like my mother won’t be the only other person reading it.

I am writing this blog to help other aspiring authors get past the hump between “life

happens” and a life goal. Here are the eight lessons that got me over the hump to put my first book out at age 40-something.

Tip #1 – Decide You Can:

Writing a business book sounds impossible; that’s why many people never try. It’s been the hardest thing I have ever done, but obviously it isn’t impossible since other people have been doing it for hundreds of years.

A key for me to get over the hump was to do something else that sounded impossible but I knew that other, seemingly ordinary, people do all the time. I stumbled on the Martin Sheen movie The Way about people walking across Spain on the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail. Something clicked. A few months later, I flew to Spain with just a backpack and broken-in hiking boots. Thirty days, 500 miles and countless blisters later, I found myself in the cathedral in Santiago de Compestela celebrating with other successful pilgrims. (See my blogs about hiking the Camino.)

From that day forward, I have faced any new challenge by telling myself, “I walked across Spain, I can do that.” Writing a business book didn’t look as crazy anymore.

Even if a hike across a country isn’t for you, find something that seems slightly impossible in another area you do like and challenge yourself.

Tip #2 – Writers Write:

You may have the greatest book idea in your head, but nothing exists until you put it on paper ... or at least in pixels. When I was on the Camino, I started writing daily blogs about my adventure. When I look back on those blogs now, I smile and cringe at the same time. I cringe because my writing today is much better than it was two years ago. Like most things, writing gets better with practice. I kept writing after I got back from the Camino. I blogged and attracted few readers, but I kept blogging. Somewhere along the way, I found my writing voice. I learned to write to convey ideas to others instead of writing to demonstrate how clever I am to others. I’ve long had experiences and ideas I thought worth sharing, and by writing regularly, I developed the muscles to translate those thoughts into words on paper.

Tip #3 – Recruit a Posse:

It takes a village to write a first book in your 40s, and I was lucky to have two co-pilots and a big ground crew.

First, like many aspiring authors, once I had an idea on paper, I looked for anyone else I knew who had successfully written a book to ask for their advice. Is there a book here? If so, how do I take it from an idea in my head to a business book in stores? I called an old colleague, Mike Figliuolo, who had written a successful book a few years earlier. Mike not only liked the book idea, he said, he would love to co-author it. Partnering with him was an easy, and great, decision.

My second co-pilot was someone I met while hiking the Camino—the “inspiration” I thanked in the Acknowledgments in the book. The 18 months from book idea to book release had many ups and downs. Every time I hit a low point, she pulled me up and she continues to be my biggest supporter.

Finally, my “ground crew” consisted of all my friends and family who I had told about my book idea as a forcing mechanism to make me stay the course. I acknowledged my “ground crew” in the opening of the book with these words: “To all my family and friends who asked me at some point about how ‘The Book’ was coming along—writing a first book is a lonely, uncharted trek with no guaranteed finish line. Even the smallest gestures of interest and support meant more than you realized.”

Tip #4 – Armor Up:

Publishing a book is a deeply personal experience. When you put your thoughts on paper, you are putting a piece of yourself out there for other people to criticize or, even worse, to ignore. The best advice I got was to realize that criticism, or indifference, is not about you; they are about how well you translated that piece of yourself onto paper. And that is a skill you can improve. (See Tip #2: Writers Write).

Tip #5 – Get a Deadline:

Notice I wrote, “Get a deadline” not, “Set a deadline.” The single biggest thing that moved me from aspiring author to new author was a contractually imposed deadline. Once I signed a deal with a publisher, I had to turn in a manuscript, on spec, on deadline or face consequences. The fear instinct is a powerful motivator. Use it to your advantage.

Tip #6 – Find Your Writing Place:

My home office works for my regular business, but it didn’t work for writing a book. Writing is the most intensive mental work I have ever done. I found I needed to be away from my distractions at home to focus. I also found that new locations spurred my creativity. So I ended up rotating between a few coffee houses and restaurants in my neighborhood, with a friend’s dining room table tossed in as well to keep up the momentum.

Tip #7 – 50% Authorship, 50% Other-ship:

Writing is only part of what it takes to publish a first book. To get anyone to read your book, you have to help market it. Days after I signed my book deal, the publisher sent us different options for the cover design to choose from. Once the book has a cover, Amazon and other online sellers post it for pre-orders, so you need to set up your presence as an author (and affiliate seller.)

Once you finish your manuscript, you need to start calling in favors to get big name people to write endorsements for your book cover. After you get your endorsers, you need to start working on getting blogs and other media to help get the word out about your book. And then on the day the book officially releases ...

#8 – Enlist the Village:

I don’t like asking for favors, and I hate the idea of selling stuff to my friends. But, after some good advice, I decided to ask family and friends for help with getting the word out about my first book. It was less about getting them to buy a copy of the book (although pre-orders and first week sales are the key to cracking the bestseller lists). It was more about sharing my excitement about a big life event. For a first-time author, announcing a book is somewhat like a new parent announcing a new baby. One difference: I put my first words on paper for this book about 18 months ago, so maybe I should have twin books to show for my effort today.

If you have a goal to write a business book, I hope these tips help you. If you know someone else who wants to write a book but hasn’t gotten over the hump yet, feel free to share this with them. Best of luck.

(The original version of this post appeared on LinkedIn on July 20, 2015)

The next article to be posted here will discuss some of the findings in comparing the previous article (by AI) with this one above. Stay tuned! Oh, and please feel free to send in or add your observations in the comments below!

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