Adam Wren

Roving journalist filing dispatches from the Midwest and beyond.

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Show Your Scenius: 9 People I’m Learning From Right Now

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Creativity, and the work of making things, doesn’t happen in isolation.

In his excellent book, Show Your Work!, Austin-based writer Austin Kleon writes about the importance of learning from a community of like-minded creatives. In doing so, Kleon argues, you can create a “scenius”—a group of people who constitute the avant-garde of your craft. “Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals — artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers — who make up an ‘ecology of talent,'” Kleon writes.

“Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals — artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers — who make up an ‘ecology of talent,'” Kleon writes.

In this spirt, I thought it’d be apropos to share the people who make up my scenius: a small band of writers, journalists, entrepreneurs, creatives and thinkers who are influencing me, and helping me answer key questions that I’m asking about life and work.

One of my goals in life is to never stop learning, to never stop asking questions. In no particular order, here are people who are helping me find answers.

1. Buzz Bissinger,

In a world of noise and narcissism, how do you write about issues and people that matter in a way that matters? Despite the explosion of long form journalism in recent years,  great non-fiction writing with reportial heft and cultural import is sometimes lacking. For every incredible piece of journalism, there’s snark-ridden, small-ball playing, solipsism-soaked slop that does little more than stroke the writer’s ego.

Buzz Bissinger’s writing and reporting, (for the most part, I’m excluding Shooting Stars, of course, and a few other works)  harkens back to a time of when journalism began with a capital “J,” though. Sure, you know Friday Night Lights. But A Prayer for the City and Father’s Day mine deeper territory, posing questions about urban decline and renewal as well as what it means to be a father and be fathered.

Bissinger’s work is teaching me how to write about complex issues and even more complex personalities with pathos and moral clarity—all through the vehicle of fastidious, clear-eyed reporting of rich narratives.

2. Jeff Goins,

Is it possible to create great art and make a living at it? That’s a question I’m exploring in my work as a freelance writer, and a space that Nasvhille-based author and entrepreneur Jeff Goins is helping me navigate. Like most people on this list, I’ve never met Jeff, but his blog and podcast are essential reading if you find yourself wrestling with the same questions.

Of particular note, Goins’ new podcast, “The Portfolio Life,” speaks to my own situation of multi-vocational self employment: I’m a reporter. I’m a copywriter and ghostwriter. I teach. I work as an editor. What’s the through line of it all?  Goins’ latest work is a helpful guide to this tricky new territory.

3. Blaine Hogan, Blaine

What does it mean to make better art? Art that is true, and that eschews trite conclusions and transcends propaganda? A Chicago-based creative director and writer, Hogan has grappled with this question, at greater depths, more than anyone else I know. His new course, Make Better, promises to help you and I do exactly that.

His provocative essay, “I Should Be Phillip Seymour Hoffman,” is a great entry point to his work. Also consider picking up his book, Untitled: Thoughts on the Creative Process.

4. Ben Arment,

How do you bring a dream to life—and make it pay? Virginia Beach-based author and entrepreneur (and tastemaker) Ben Arment probes this question in depth in his forthcoming work, Dream Year, which promises to be one of 2014’s best business books. Check out his upcoming “pitch night” event coming to a city near your later this year, or sign up for his amazing Story event. (Also, do yourself a favor and sign up for his amazing, brutally honest newsletters.)

One of Ben’s keystone ideas is that dreams can be demystified, that they are actually “spreadsheets with skin on.” For me, that’s made the work of writing a book proposal more palatable and possible. What also strikes me about Ben is the quality of everything he touches. It’s easy—and sometimes profitable—to cut corners. Ben doesn’t.

5.Jason Fagone,

How do you make the leap from city magazine to an author with a national platform? That’s the question I’ve been asking Philadelphia-based reporter Jason Fagone lately (not literally, of course—because that would be a weird icebreaker since I haven’t yet met him—but by following him on Twitter and reading his latest work at sites such as Grantland and The New Yorker).

6.David Wolman,

As a writer and reporter in a digital age, how do you transition from working on a per-assignment basis to generating passive income from work you’ve already created? That’s a question Wolman examines in a fantastic post over at Medium, and answers in his new compilation, Firsthand: A Decade of Reportage (I found out about this, by the way, from Fagone’s Twitter feed—follow him).

Wolman is teaching me that writers should have an eye toward building multiple streams of income, beyond just the assignment.

7-8. Aaron Lammer & Max Linksy, 

How do you make it as an aspiring narrative non-fiction writer? Lammer and Linsky produce the best podcast available for anyone interested in longform journalism, writing and, more broadly, the craft of storytelling. Each Wednesday, I thumb my iPhone’s podcast app, waiting to see who this week’s guest is (Michael Lewis, most recently, much to my gleeful surprise).

If a good story and the arc of a writer’s career entices you, allow Lammer and Linksy to take you on a journey each week into the nuances and interstices of reporting, writing and storytelling in a digital age.

9. Kevin Roose, and New York Magazine

How do you spin a narrative that spans multiple characters and multiple years? Kevin Roose’s excellent book, Young Moneytaught me a lot about how to advance such a story. Roose has transitioned to covering the Valley for New York, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Question: Who comprises your scenius?

*Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links.


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