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."

More

User's Guide to Energy Special Report bug
A series of interviews with leaders in media, tech, and the arts
See more

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.

Jump to comments

Emma Green is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the National Channel, manages TheAtlantic.com’s homepage, and writes about religion and culture.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Video

Just In