On Writing: The Hunter or The Gatherer?

by Meredith Resnick

Award-winning journalist Jennifer Margulis recently wrote about The Mastadon Theory of Writing in her writing blog. I have to tell you, this post has stayed with me. (I encourage you to read it as it will give you—no pun intended—food for thought.)  The whole hunter/gatherer paradigm, as well as the debate (inside my head, that is) about the benefits of  actively seeking ideas versus waiting to see what crosses your path has fascinated me for a long time. In fact, I posed those very questions in two of my 2009 interviews, one with Saatchi & Saatchi über creative Jordan Levinson and the other with journalist/fiction writer Jim Ruland.

Jennifer’s post touches on something else, too: the work writers choose. She poses a question for writers to ponder…do you pick “nuts and berries” or hunt for your “mastadon?” Click over for a read, and please comment here.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }


Sometimes, it’s not what we pick..but what picks us. Personally, I like a well-rounded, varied diet, rich in all colors :)

Almost Slowfood

My interest is definitely peeked!!

Ruth Pennebaker

Intriguing ideas at play here. Similarly, I’ve always wondered about traditional differences between what’s deemed men’s novels (wars, hunting, world domination) and women’s work (usually closer to home, “smaller” but compelling topics like relationships and friendships). Which one is really the big game, the mastodon? Is a focus on relationships similar to picking low-hanging fruit?

I realize I’m somewhat twisting the subject here, Meredith. But I do wonder whether we all have the same idea of what a mastodon is.


Ruth, I think that is an excellent point. I was looking at it yet another way. On Jennifer’s blog, part of my own comment was: “I believe we are meant to have many ‘mastadons’ in our careers…for it means we are moving forward.”

Jennifer Margulis

Thanks for the shout-out Meredith! The original idea is NOT mine, but something my friend Marina heard at an ASJA conference (for writers reading this, I highly recommend ASJA). I can’t take credit for it. But I can say that it has really stayed with me too and it has really helped me think about my career, and HUNT my mastadon!

Roxanne Hawn

Right now, I think I’m too beleaguered with family matters to hunt for real, but I’m surely, slowly stalking a mastadon or two.

Stephanie - Wasabimon

I loved her article as well. Mastadons are scary but rewarding, while berries are sweet and low-hanging fruit (literally!) that don’t yield very much in the way of sustenance. Jennifer’s analogy really rang true for me.

(says the girl who’s been living on nuts and berries for a while now.)


a while back over at Frugal Kiwi Melanie McMinn had a post on the question of are you a Ben Frankin or a Mozart? wasn’t about writing as such, rather on how we focus our interests (to be very general about it), but it came to mind with this. more a tangential than a direct connection to yours or Jennifer’s thoughts, but perhaps…


I’d compare front of book to fruits and berries, while mastodons are feature articles. If you gather enough fruit and berries, you can still have a decent career, but I’d rather have the mastodon (it’s meatier). Still trying to figure out how best to get there!

sarah henry

Oh, I love this notion — hunter vs. gather — as applied to our craft. Such an interesting concept. And I missed Jennifer’s post on same so I’ll go check it out right now. Thanks for the tip.

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