New York Times Bestseller James Morris Came To My Class, Here's What I Learned

By: Valeria Ramos

In my journalism class today, author and New York Times Bestseller James McGrath Morris gave a lecture on his tips for writing and publishing a book. Morris has an impressive background in journalism and writing so I was eager to hear his advice for young writers.

Ethel Payne

Morris is best known for his award-winning biographies, which you can check out here. One of his biographies that I am excited to read is "Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press," which is about pioneering journalist and civil rights figure Ethel Payne.

James McGrath Morris

Morris' number one tip was to stay organized and dedicated when it came to research. Whether you're writing sci-fi novels or biographies, all writing requires research. Even this blog post I am writing required some research. 

Morris shared that while some details might appear insignificant at first, after uncovering other facts, they can connect stories together. For example,  while researching Joseph Pulitzer for his biography, Morris found a letter from a woman thanking Pulitzer for a free subscription. Morris thought nothing of this until he later discovered love letters between Pulitzer and that same woman from years before. It turns out that this woman had turned Pulitzer down when they were young, and years later when he was rich and successful, he made sure his newspaper showed up in her mailbox every day to remind her of what she was missing out on. Pretty shady stuff. 

Morris' second tip and one that I think is most important is to write about something that actually excites you. There's no point in doing something you don't enjoy because if you're serious about writing a book it is going to consume all of your time and focus. Morris shared that his wife even describes living with a biographer as a ménage à trois. 

Last but not least is something all writers know but don't want to hear - "there is no such thing as writer's block." Morris couldn't have said it better because what we perceive as a creative block is often just procrastination and a lack of motivation. His tip for avoiding a block and getting work done was to "just show up." "If you can't write past chapter one, write a paragraph of chapter 18 or 20, you don't have to work sequentially." Just putting pen on paper (or fingers on the keyboard) and writing anything, even if it is just word vomit, is better than doing nothing at all. After all, writing is like pottery according to Morris, because it takes a while for your story to start taking shape and it requires plenty of patience and dedication.