Tom Ricks on Writing

Tom Ricks on Writing November 1, 2014

From the same interview quoted in the previous item, defense analyst and Pulitzer Prize finalist Tom Ricks on writing.

He describes as like having children with each one offering different joys and sorrows, and says that an editor of his once told him that “Oh, every good book has at one nervous breakdown in it.” Then:

11. What has been your greatest challenge as a journalist?

There are several different ways to answer that  —  professionally, intellectually and morally.

Professionally, the greatest challenge was that I really didn’t fit in as a daily news reporter, despite being one for 26 years. I am much more a natural book writer. An editor once said to me, “The beginning of your story is not really a Washington Post ‘lead.’” I took that as a compliment, but he didn’t mean it as one.

Intellectually, it has been to keep up with the field I cover, national security. There always is one more book to read, one more document to study, one more person to talk to. My kids used to think I had a daily subscription to Amazon, with a book arriving every day. My basement is full of books I’ve read, and often go back to consult.

Morally, the challenge in Washington is to keep your mental distance, and realize that many people suck up to you because they think you might help them somehow. . . .

When asked what authors most influenced his writing style, he listed Orwell, Churchill, Auden and the later Yeats’ poems, the King James Version, and John Updike.


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