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200 words in 10 minutes, David Leser style

“Based on the research you’ve just done, I want you to write a 200-word profile. In 10 minutes. OK then, 15 minutes.” The calm order of his working life as a profile writer comes across when David Leser teaches. His workshop is run like clockwork, and you sense there’s time only to see a few gems among the treasure trove of anecdotes. There’s the wild drive through the back blocks of Ipswich behind Pauline Hanson, and her meat and three veges tea. And there’s the interview with Andrew Denton, and its lesson that sometimes other people, often unknowingly, tell you what the subject can’t tell you themselves.
Everyone has competing voices – greedy, charitable, lustful, and more, and the profile writer listens for the contradictions of the human condition. Leser, a generous teacher, writes meanly, speaking every sentence to himself. ‘Every word has a weight.’ He is thorough about research. If he feels he needs to speak to 100 people he will. Before he meets the subject. This helps him know if they’re lying. He doesn’t pre-determine a story. He likens it to being in a boat going down a river and drifting to one side or the other, listening to the answers you’re getting.

Marian Edmunds


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