Jonah Goldberg is one of the most prolific and unique authors of the modern conservative movement. His nationally syndicated column appears regularly in newspapers across the United States. He is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a member of the board of contributors to USA Today, a contributing editor to National Review, and the founding editor of National Review Online.
His first book, Liberal Fascism, quickly became a New York Times bestseller, and he has been frustratingly cryptic about his forthcoming and much anticipated second book.
In addition to his many print appearances, Jonah Goldberg can been spotted on a regular basis making snarky comments as a contributor to Fox News.
Mr. Goldberg has a wealth of knowledge that is informed by his very unique experiences. His advice for young conservatives and aspiring conservative writers should be considered an excellent resource for the conservative movement.
No such thing as wasted time.
There is no such thing as truly wasted time if you aren’t spending it entirely sitting around playing video games.
Talking to someone as much on the forefront of the political debate as Jonah Goldberg, one would expect to be instructed about focus, and determination, and hard work. It was a surprise then, and somewhat of a relief, to be told by Goldberg that there is no such thing as wasted time.
One of the things that younger people in Washington get too obsessed with is this idea of ‘wasted time.’ They feel that if they are not perfectly focused on the path to their end goal then they are wasting time. I don’t know anybody who ended up working a weird job that ended up not being the job for them, that felt like they wasted time. They are really glad for that experience. Having a diversity of experiences, whatever you end up doing, it only helps.
And if anyone does, Jonah knows about a “diversity of experiences.”
After college, Goldberg and some friends had a failed experience trying to start a newspaper in New York City. From there he went to Prague, where he had a failed experience being a starving writer. “I didn’t starve and I didn’t write!” After coming back to the United States, he worked as Ben Wattenberg’s research assistant at AEI, which eventually led him to producing Wattenberg’s show Think Tank on PBS.
It was after coming through this diversity of experiences that he learned of and appreciated their value.
One of the reasons why I came home early from Prague is because I had convinced myself that I was wasting time. In retrospect, that just seems idiotic…It was a good time-out. A good time to play a lot of blackjack in European casinos, but also to read books that I otherwise wouldn’t have read.
One of the things I like about writing, with the caveat about editors notwithstanding, is that basically whatever comes into my head shows up on the piece of paper or on the screen. I’m responsible for the words that are down there. That’s not the same thing with television, but I’m really glad that I learned that. I’m really glad that I didn’t go years thinking that I could be a good television producer. It’s a very valuable experience to find out what you are not good at or what you don’t love.
Goldberg also had his first book contract in the mid 1990’s to write a book about the 100 most influential conservatives. He never wrote the book and actually gave the advance back to the publisher.
I don’t consider it wasted time because I spent a lot of time thinking hard about what I thought about conservatives. The process of trying to figure out how to rank them meant that I had to develop a ideological filter of how I see these things, and it was a very useful process for me. I learned a lot. I also learned that writing a book you really don’t want to be writing is just about the most horrible thing you could do other than eating broken glass.
I’m really glad I did [give the advance back]. Because you only write your first book once.
The need to love your craft.
As an author who has navigated many unique experiences, Goldberg has useful and practical advice for young writers.
They should be buying many copies of my books.
While that bit of advice was said in jest, it is not a bad idea. Much can be learned from Goldberg’s work about how to develop one’s voice as an author.
I wanted to differentiate my voice from a lot of other writers. The goal is for an editor to put their hand over the byline and say “this sounds like Jonah Goldberg, or “this sounds like Jacqueline Otto.”
In rapid-fire succession, here are some more tidbits of advice that Goldberg has for young conservative writers,
■ Don’t always go for the funny stuff. There are a lot of writers out there who want to be P.J. O’Rourke. The reason P.J. O’Rourke is P.J. O’Rourke is because he is freaking P.J. O’Rourke. He is really good at it.
■ Writing weird stuff, which is different than funny stuff, is hugely useful. If you can find some subject that is interesting that no one else is writing about, you aren’t competing with anybody.
■ When you are young and unknown, it is better to be in print. When you are older and established, it is better to be online… Editors understand that dead tree and ink is a finite resource. They understand that if you have a clip from a paper publication, that you made it through more hurdles than if you had made it onto the web.
■ Do book reviews… It allows you to become an expert about whatever it is you are reading about… If you do five to ten book reviews on a related field, you are basically as expert as any journalist on that field.
■ This industry cannot sustain the number of pundits it already has, but there is always room for reporters… You can always get around to doing the opinion stuff, if you learn how to get the facts right, learn how to use the telephone and not just email.
Goldberg also stressed the importance of loving your craft. He told the story of a painter in Connecticut who painted seascapes. This women would say ‘If you are going to be a painter, you have to like smooshing the paints.”
What she meant by that was that before you figure out if you are going to paint a crying clown, or a car wreck, or a seascape, you got to like taking the paints out and smooshing them around. You have to like the process, because if you truly hate the process, you can’t really love painting. It is sort of the same thing with writing. That doesn’t mean it can’t be hard; writing a book is just the crappiest thing in the world. But at the end of the day, you have to like writing at some level. Or you are just some poser who likes to say that you are a writer.
A Final Piece of Advice from Jonah Goldberg.
I’m a great skeptic about the glories of being young, and fetishising youth (no offense to the America’s Future Foundation). But the one thing they have over everybody who is married or has kids, is that they have the ability to be entrepreneurial with their time.
I use to say in college and high school that if it made a great story six months later, it was worth doing. I still think there is some wisdom in that. Create the narrative of your life so that when you look back on it, you feel that there wasn’t wasted time.
On Wednesday, February 8, 2012, Mr. Goldberg will be debating Matt Welch of Reason Magazine on the question of “Are libertarians a part of the conservative movement?” This debate is co-hosted by America’s Future Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and will be hosted at the AEI conference center.
Make sure to watch for Goldberg’s second book, and follow him on twitter at @JonahNRO.
Jacqueline Otto’s shelves at home are lined with used-book store finds; just a few of her favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne, and George Orwell.
She first read F.A. Hayek and Frédéric Bastiat at 16. Her political affiliation on Facebook is “Freedom,” and she hopes to always be known as a lover of liberty.
Jacqueline is on Twitter at @jacque_otto.
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