Community//

“Five things you need to know to become a great author” with award winning author S.C. Gwynne

The one habit that has helped me become a good writer is meeting deadlines. I worked full-time as a journalist for more than 30 years. There is no such thing as writer’s block in deadline journalism. Aspart of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I […]

The one habit that has helped me become a good writer is meeting deadlines. I worked full-time as a journalist for more than 30 years. There is no such thing as writer’s block in deadline journalism.


Aspart of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing S.C. Gwynne. He is the author of Hymns of the Republic and the New York Times bestsellers Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He spent most of his career as a journalist, including stints with Time as bureau chief, national correspondent, and senior editor, and with Texas Monthly as executive editor.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I read a short story called “Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F. Scott Fitzgerald when I was 16 and decided that I would like to write like that.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

Traveling to Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific for a story about the people there who lived in exile because of nuclear bomb tests was pretty interesting.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I wish most of the mistakes had been funny. My first assignment was to cover the visit of the president of General Motors to a car plant in Baltimore. I was 21 years old. I assumed that I would be in a room full of reporters, so I did not do any research and had no questions prepared. It turned out that I was the only reporter. I think I might have asked him how he had spent his day, upon which he and his staff looked at me as though I were a complete idiot.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have been working on a book for the last few years about the last year of the American Civil War. It’s a fascinating, nation-defining time period. The book is called Hymns of the Republic, available October 2019 from Scribner.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

The one habit that has helped me become a good writer is meeting deadlines. I worked full-time as a journalist for more than 30 years. There is no such thing as writer’s block in deadline journalism.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

In the last year of the Civil War, there were 180,000 black soldiers in the Union army, ten percent of the total. The majority were former slaves. Most people do not know this. In a war of attrition, they literally tipped the balance of power.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

I am not sure there is anything empowering about the book. I think the book helps explain why the United States of America is the way it is today.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

The biggest challenge was probably discovering what I wanted to write about. When I first started writing, I had no particular focus. A first career as an international banker gave me focus. I started out writing about business.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I greatly admire Michael Lewis, who has written The Blind Side, Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, and other books.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

That is a tough one since I have covered so many different topics for so many different publications. I would like to think that my work helps people explain the world they live in.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

Get a job in journalism, and work your way toward a book. I would not recommend such a path for fiction writers, who inhabit their own special universe.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. How book publishing works.

2. How to write a lede.

3. How to write a nut graph

4. How to write a kicker.

5. How to deal with “off the record” sources.

(To explain all this would take about several hours.)

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Some sort of program to bring fresh water to the developing world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am on:

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/S.C.Gwynne

Twitter https://twitter.com/scgwynne

My website is https://scgwynne.com

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Why you should set goals.” with Patrick Hickey Jr.

by Ben Ari
Community//

“You never know where you’re going to find your next story,” an interview with authors Sara Connell & Maria Aspan

by Sara Connell
Community//

“Bring continued exposure” to make a book a bestseller, an interview with Sara Connell & publicist Cindy Birne

by Sara Connell

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.