Joshua Bodwell of Godine Recommends...

At some point during the pandemic, I wrote a note to myself on a yellow Post-it and stuck it to my computer monitor: “I’m most interested in narrative nonfiction that feels like the author who wrote it is the only person who could have written it.” This may seem like a basic truth, but as my friend Ann Beattie once said, “It’s helpful to know to begin at the most simple level—even if I don’t always remember to do that.” 

You’d be surprised by how many submissions I read that feel like the writer unwittingly attempted to get the round peg of their voice into the square hole of their subject. It’s not always immediately obvious why a submission feels flat even when the writing, line by line, is serviceable, or even good. Something just feels off. And then it hits like a Chekhovian epiphany: There’s no spark. 

When it comes to writing truly great narrative nonfiction, a writer’s mere interest in a subject isn’t enough to carry a manuscript. Passion is mandatory; obsession is preferred. If you aren’t haunted by what you’re striving to write about, leave the subject to someone who is.  

—Joshua Bodwell, editorial director, Godine

Photo credit: Curt Richter