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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
How To Write A Column (as told by Imma Vitelli)
Carmen Russo, NYU Florence Student
La Pietra Dialogues
February 20, 2015

After spending a week in Kobane, Syria and falling in love with the Kurdish warrior women at the front lines fighting against ISIS, war correspondent Imma Vitelli is back at NYU Florence for her second La Pietra Dialogue. For her talk, “The Border Chronicles”, she gave the following advice about finding a voice and telling the stories that are worth writing down and sharing with the world:

1. “Find out why you like the color purple.”

You cannot write about other people without knowing yourself first. If you want to tell someone else’s story, you need to find out where that person came from. If you don’t know why you do the things you do, you will never question why other people do what they do.  

2. “Don’t go where the happy people go.”

Take risks. Imma plunged into her writing career when she moved from Italy to Beirut, where she was able to sympathize with people and make connections that lead her to valuable stories. Find the people with broken hearts and eyes that have seen too much. If they are still here, they have a story to tell.

3. “Listen first, then write.”

Listen with your whole body and let the readers see everything that you see. Also listen with caution and be respectful. When Imma talked with the head of the Kurdish resistance (a woman), she knew that asking about age would be uncomfortable and taking notes right away would be intimidating. If the person sitting in front of you cannot trust you, they will never give you their best stories.

4. “Find the goosebumps.”

Imma was instantly fascinated by the women who kept their city safe from ISIS. But her skin chilled when she heard that the ISIS men were terrified because being killed by a woman would lock them out of paradise. The stories that give you goosebumps are the ones that should be heard.

5. “Know your audience.”

As a writer for Marie Claire, Imma knew that her readers would be women. She has to connect the women at the hairdresser that pick up her story to the screaming Kurdish women striking fear into the hearts of terrorists. Show the readers that the characters on the page are real people.

The rest of column writing has to be learned through experience and driven by a curiosity that cannot be taught. If you have the obsession, Imma says, “plunge into it blind and naked. Go and discover.”

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