Susan Orlean: Why I Write

Acclaimed author Susan Orlean explains her many reasons for being a writer.

| February 2013

Anyone who's ever sat down to write a novel or even a story knows how exhilarating and heartbreaking writing can be. So what makes writers stick with it? In Why We Write (Plume, 2013), twenty well-known authors candidly share what keeps them going and what they love most—and least—about their vocation. In this excerpt from chapter 16, Susan Orlean explains why being a writer was the only job for her.   

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He believed the dog was immortal. “There will always be a Rin Tin Tin,” Lee Duncan said, time and time again, to reporters, to visitors, to fan magazines, to neighbors, to family, to friends. At first this must have sounded absurd—just wishful thinking about the creature that had eased his loneliness and made him famous around the world . . .
—Opening lines, Rin Tin Tin, 2011 

As a writer, what do you do and where do you go, once Meryl Streep has been Oscar nominated for portraying you in the movie adaptation of your book—or, in Susan Orleans’s case, the movie, Adaptation, of her book? Susan Orlean decided to do everything and go everywhere.

Susan Orlean is an exceptionally wide-ranging, voraciously curious journalist with an exceptionally wide-ranging career. A staff writer and blogger for the New Yorker since 1992, she’s written articles about nearly everything—chickens, dieting, dogs, surfer girls, Jean Paul Gaultier, Bill Blass, a Harlem high school basketball star, Tonya Harding, taxidermy—for Rolling Stone, Vogue, Esquire, Spy, and a host of other publications.

“I always dreamed of being a writer,” Orlean explains on her website, “but had no idea of how you went about being a writer—or at least the kind of writer I wanted to be: someone who wrote long stories about interesting things, rather than news stories about short-lived events.”

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