The Craft: Julia Carpenter is "So Freaking on Fire About the Power of Journalism"

Happy frozen Tuesday to you all! We're here to warm you up with this month's edition ofThe Craft, Novella’s monthly series where we talk to women like you and do our favorite thing: geek out about writing. This month, we spoke with Julia Carpenter, a CNN journalist with a hankering for fiction. She's got the 411 on the power of journalism to bring light to diversity, gender, money, and work — and writing-while-cozy, making this essential January reading.

Interviewed by Lourdes Avila Uribe

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The Craft: Julia Carpenter

What’s your name and what do you do?

Julia Carpenter, and I'm journalist at CNN Business. I write about diversity, gender and work.

Can you tell us a bit about  the journey that led you to working at CNN Business and The Washington Post?

My first day at the University of Georgia, I signed up to write for The Red & Black, our independent student newspaper, and that kind of changed everything for me. Working there taught me so much about every part of journalism: from reporting out a lead to writing a column to editing breaking news. From there, I interned like a mad woman. By the time I graduated from college and started my first job, on the social media team at The Washington Post, I was so freaking on fire about the power of journalism.

I was a contractor at The Post for about 10 months, and in that time I did things like run our Google Plus (I know! 2014, man) and jumpstart The Post's Tumblr presence. But I still wanted to write more than anything. I stayed at The Post for another few years, writing for the legendary Style section and creating all sorts of fun audience engagement projects. I learned so, so much from the journalists I worked with there. I mean, I really learned everything there.

In 2016, my friend and then-colleague Alex Laughlin (also a Novella-goer!) founded this community called Pay Up. We wanted to see what would happen when we connected women in a Slack channel and asked them about how the gender wage gap affected their lives. We knew there was something special happening in Pay Up because women were talking about salary and negotiation and workplace harassment and all sorts of super revealing stuff. I just sort of became obsessed with the world of gender and money, so I started writing about it as much as I could. In 2017, CNN Business gave me this incredible opportunity, to come write about this full-time. In my last year and a half in this role, I've written about sexual harassment, pay transparency and so much more.


How has your professional work inspired your personal writing practice?

I know this sounds corny, but journalism taught me there's nothing more powerful than truth. A lot of my personal writing still considers that. "What's the truth here?" I'm basically just always writing about that.

How similar or different is your process when writing for editorial vs. fiction?

In journalism, the reporting always comes before everything else. At this point in my career, I've learned how to be a really diligent in the reporting, and I have noticed that in a way, some of that same diligence spills over into my personal writing.

Like now, before I write a short story, I'll do all this research beforehand. I'll read up on the place or the time or the topic, read other writers for inspiration, talk to some people about it, go to the library, print out all my materials, all that. Only when I have all that stuff can I truly hunker down to begin the writing.

This was initially a bit of a block in my fiction writing, to be honest, because I had to learn that you can't report something out in the same way you can a piece of journalism. Maybe you don't know where something is going — but you're the only one who can know where it goes. You have to start with your idea and follow it through, and that in its own way feels a bit like being on the reporting trail.


Can you tell us a bit about the novel you are working on?

This is scary to share! But basically it's about two women planning a wedding. That kind of gets it all, I guess.

I have been writing small scenes of this novel off and on for about a year now, and I wasn't quite sure where it was going. Then last fall, I took a short story writing workshop with Danielle Lazarin, who is just the greatest. I highly recommend reading her book, Back Talk, and if you get the chance, you should definitely take a class with her. I kept trying to play around with these pieces I had and shove them into short story form, and it just wasn't happening. They didn't work that way. So that's when I realized OK, wow, I really want to work on this in a different way. 

Nailing that way down, exactly, has been hard for me, no lie. As much as I value diligence and as much as I see it absolutely integral to my writing and the process, I really struggle with procrastination. It's so easy for me to say "I write all day long, I'm too tired now, blah blah blah." Accountability has been so, so helpful. I mentor with Girls Write Now, this fantastic organization in the city, and setting up writing dates with my mentee has really helped me commit to this. We'll go to museums for inspiration trips or get together in a coffee shop to work on things. She's read my stories and I've read hers. Another writer friend and I made a New Year's resolution to swap pages more often, so knowing she's waiting on Sunday night really forces me to get typing. I'm also in another writing workshop right now, and I'm already producing so much more just because I know I have to have something to show when it's my turn to share.

Where do you like to write?

Coziness is paramount. Cozy could be anywhere: my couch, the Rose Room at The New York Public Library, the coffee bar at Swallow, a friend's couch ... but it has to be cozy.

Do you have an object you keep by your side to inspire you while writing?

When I'm writing at home, I really rely on my bookshelves and my notebooks. Not to reference or anything like that — just to have near me, to surround me. I'm a little woo-woo like that. I'm a Pisces.


Do you have any favorite writing supplies you can’t live without?

I've tried so many different notebook brands, but I always go back to the black Moleskine notebooks with the pocket in the back. I save different fun stickers and put those on the front, and I buy a new one about every single month because I guess I have to journal every single feeling that flits across my brain.

Also, I've discovered Catbird and Books Are Magic both have really good pens. They send them out in their packages. Seriously, I recommend ordering something from Catbird or Books Are Magic just so you can get one of their pens.

What’s your favorite deep mid-winter activity?

To me, there's nothing better than waking up on a day off, grabbing my book off the nightstand and picking up right where I left off the night before. Then staying there all morning, drinking coffee in bed — there's nothing better.

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