Advice on Writing From The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates

"I always consider the entire process about failure, and I think that's the reason why more people don't write."

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Before he wrote cover stories for The Atlantic, before he won a National Magazine Award, before he taught at MIT, Ta-Nehisi Coates was laid off by Time magazine. “To put it bluntly,” he wrote last spring, “I was — like most freelancers — hurting. My wife had been unerringly supportive. My son was getting older. I was considering driving a cab.”

Of course, it’s now six years later, and Coates has had great success writing for The Atlantic, The New York Times, and other publications. But writing doesn’t get easier, he maintains — it’s always a process.

“It’s as though you have a certain music in your head, and trying to get that music out on the page is absolute hell,” he said in an interview for Atlantic Video’s Creative Breakthroughs series. “But what you have to do is give yourself a day, go back, revise, over and over and over again.”

This interview was filmed at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival.

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Emma Green is the assistant managing editor of TheAtlantic.com, where she also oversees the National Channel and writes about religion and culture.

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