Advice to Students


With real writer Mark Bittman, food critic for the NY Times – trying to design a TV show – hello…. Food Network? Are you listening?

When I was 2o years old, I dreamed of being a writer.

So I bought my self an Olivetti portable typewriter (these being the days before laptops… or even computers), and I schlepped that thing to Nepal, into the Himalayas, where I ensconsced myself into the Kathmandu Guest House. Now this, I thought, is writing.

Once there, I immediately wrote to Peter Matthiessen.

I had been greatly influenced by Matthiessens’ book, The Snow Leopard, which was part of the reason I had schlepped the Olivetti 12, 000 miles. So as I sat down to write, I wrote to Matthiessen. I wrote him the kind of 20 page, single spaced letter that only a 20 year old would write. I told him how much he had influenced me, how much I wanted to write.. blah, blah, blah. And I sent it off.

A few weeks later, much to my surprise, I got an answer from Matthiessen.

He had sent back my letter, but had scrawled across the front of it in bright red letters:

“If you want to write… write. But don’t write to me”.

-Peter Matthiessen
It was the best advice I ever got.

I was reminded of that story last night when I spoke to about 200 eager young journalism students at Rutger’s University in New Jersey.

They all want to be ‘in journalism’, (whatever that means), and after the talk, a particularly eager young man approached me and started asking about internships or whatever.

“Do you have a video camera?” I asked him.

He said he did.

“Do you have FCP and a laptop?” I said.

He said he did.

Then, echoing the very good advice Peter Matthiessen gave me more than a quarter century ago, I told him, “then go get your camera, get your laptop and start making stuff. Post it on Youtube, Current or your own website. Just start making stuff.”

If you want to be a writer, write.

If you want to be a videojournalist – then go videojournal… or videojournalize…

But unlike Matthiessen, I would say, by all means, send it to me.


One response to “Advice to Students

  1. “… by all means, send it to me.”

    i’d be curious to know what a 20 page letter from nepal to wherever cost to send years ago vs. a digital file today.

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