The Writer to Writer series features various writers across multiple industries to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process and hopefully pick up a few writing tips along the way. Today’s interview is with Julian Lopez, a former editor-in-chief of two business publications, a writer for Philadelphia’s Good Morning, New Miami, a freelancer, and a creative writer.
Interview With Julian Lopez
PM: You have a background in creative writing. Has that influenced how you write as a journalist or freelancer?
JL: I feel like my creative writing background has shaved my eye and my vocabulary. Writing fiction and poetry gives someone an appreciation for detail, specifically the small things that make something special or worthy of intrigue. It also forces you to expand your toolbox of words for expressing those details with the maximum impact. Now I'm using those skills to add life to other stories and projects I'm working on as a freelancer and creative writer.
PM: You’ve been editing for a few years now. How has doing that for a living changed your relationship with writing?
JL: Editing as a profession has made me more conscious about excess and aesthetic in writing. I now ask questions like, "Am I making this point as efficiently as I can? Am I omitting needless words? Am I organizing information in a way that flows easily for readers or am I overwhelming them with large blocks of text?" Those questions were important in the past too, but my standards have become stricter, more deliberate since writing and editing professionally.
PM: What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a professional writer?
JL: It's important to be accountable to yourself first in terms of quality. Your name is your career to a certain extent in writing, so if you're in a position where you can impact your reputation through your work for better or worse, you have to take that seriously.
PM: What would you say is the best way to grow as a writer?
JL: Keep reading and push your reading outside your comfort zone. Read people who are vastly different from you in terms of your identity, culture, etc., as well as engage with different genres.
PM: You’ve got some comedy chops as well, writing sketches for Philadelphia’s Good Morning, New Miami. Where do you get your ideas from? Talk about your brainstorming sessions with other writers.
JL: Comedy writing is my newest venture and I'm still working on finding my own voice in it. One thing that's helped is to work within certain limitations and parameters. Good Morning, New Miami is a daytime talk show set in post-climate change West Virginia, where Florida and most of the east coast is under water. Having that premise helps keep the comedy grounded in a weird way—somewhere between dark and really dumb. From that jumping-off point, it's easier to practice finding humor in a variety of increasingly ridiculous scenarios, like a post-apocalyptic kitty heroin epidemic or dealing with the romantic advances of the ocean as it rises.
As far as collaborating goes, it’s a monthly show, so each month our show runner will set a "theme" for that month. Then at the top of the month, everyone in the show will sit down for a riff session where we throw out different ideas or jokes we think can be used in the show. Sometimes that might include fake headlines for the first segment, "Good Morning Gossip," or other times it'll be ideas to create a story arc around the theme that gets played out in transitional segments between guests. Most of the comedians will write their own characters and segments, but depending on who's performing, we may throw around suggestions of characters that people can take and alter as they want, or occasionally we'll write the segment and let them help edit it. When the writing's done, we'll pass the docs around so people can make suggestions for edits that are ultimately finalized by the show runner.
PM: Talk about your writing processes for in the office, for freelance, and your own enjoyment. How are they different? How are they similar?
JL: My processes for all my writing share certain elements. I tend to think through my projects with outlines since my thoughts tend to be very scattered. Outlines are my go-to step for slowing down so I can organize those thoughts into something workable. The differences come in what the outlines may include. An outline for creative writing piece might have plot points, excerpts from the piece, character notes, or just a quotation that doesn't have context yet. An outline for a different piece might be mostly stats or relevant bits of research to connect to a final point. The goal is to give myself a road map so I can come back and retrace my thoughts later and still wind up at the same place.
PM: As you know all too well, much of being a good writer is being a good researcher. What is your research process like? Do you have any tips on researching well?
JL: My approach to researching depends a lot on what the situation calls for. I've been writing business-to-business material for the last three years, which has led me to seek out experts in different fields in addition to research studies from credible sources. In those cases, it comes down to vetting information through comparisons—i.e. Is what this expert saying in line with other experts' guidance, or is it unrealistic/disconnected from what professionals in the industry are saying?
For newsier writing, I've been starting wide and narrowing my research focus. For example, I might start research about a major accident and regulatory fine by looking at major resources and news outlets, but end up picking through local coverage of the accident as the event was developing. It’s important to trace information as far back to the original source as you can, especially since a lot of sites will aggregate stories from other sources until everyone's rewriting each other's summaries.
PM: As an editor, comedy writer, and your own writing, you’ve got a lot going on. How do you find time for everything?
JL: Writing professionally and creatively has been very difficult, and I haven't always succeeded at doing both well at the same time. Part of the motivation to keep up with creative pursuits is the need for a kind of balance. Freelancing and business-to-business writing is very structured and limited. Creative spaces are a chance for autonomy and experimentation. Having that outlet makes it a little easier to just follow my medicine and get the professional work done.
PM: What’s your best tip for aspiring writers?
JL: Surround yourself with people who will help push you. People doing their own thing and killing it. Shame yourself into keeping up with them, then take that momentum and push yourself a little further.
PM: What are you reading right now? What’s the best piece—article, book, blog post, etc.—you’ve read in the last six months?
JL: I'm currently reading Simone by Eduardo Lalo and War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Dennis. The best thing I've read from the last six months was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Boiling it Down: 3 Hottest Tips to Take Home
1. Outside of an editorial department, you have to hold yourself accountable to consistently produce quality work.
2. As with all other pursuits, surround yourself with passionate, talented individuals who will push you to be your best.
3. Writing fiction and poetry heightens your attention to detail and forces you to expand your vocabulary.