The Power of Sharing Stories: 4 Questions with Esmé E. Deprez

Interviews
Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Esmé E. Deprez is a California-based senior reporter on the Investigations team at Bloomberg News, specializing in long-form deep-dives into government policy, politics, economics and social issues for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Previously, Esmé was a breaking news and features correspondent for Bloomberg’s National Desk and based in New York. Her reported essay on the life and medically assisted death of her father was a finalist for the 2022 National Magazine Awards, and she was a finalist for the 2013 Livingston Awards for her story about the legislative assault on the business of abortion. She joined Bloomberg in 2009 and has since reported from 35 U.S. states and four foreign countries. She has an MS in Journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a BA in English from Boston College and was born and raised in Maine.

1. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned as a writer?
How much you can touch people with just words. In the wake of writing about how I helped my dad hasten his death for Bloomberg Businessweek, I’ve been overwhelmed in the best way by the reaction: I’ve received more emails than I can count from people telling me how much the story moved them; from people spilling their guts to me, a complete stranger, about the awful way their uncle died or the way in which their mother clandestinely hastened death during a time when or in a place where it wasn’t legal; from people recounting how they’ve printed out the story to put in folders outlining their final wishes or how reading it prompted them to do end-of-life planning or have hard and uncomfortable but necessary conversations about death with their families that they wouldn’t have otherwise had an excuse to have. (One of my favorites was really short: it said simply something about the piece being the greatest love story they’d ever read. That one just about broke me.) I’ve written about a lot of controversial topics in my career so I’d tried to anticipate blowback prior to publishing. But to hear the helpful, positive impacts the story’s had on people has totally blown my mind, and I think it speaks to the value and power of sharing our stories and how universal a deeply intimate narrative can be and feel. 

2. What has been the biggest surprise of your writing life?

Nearly every time I go to write, imposter syndrome invades my psyche: I panic and question everything, including my ability to write a single sentence, let alone a whole story. I’ve been surprised and reassured to learn that even the best writers in the business feel this way too! Remembering that, and enduring this process over and over again (and eventually coming out the other side), has drilled into me that there is just no getting around just sitting your butt in your seat and staying put until you grind it out. 

3. If you had to choose a metaphor to describe yourself as a writer, what would it be?

I often feel, while reporting, like a person on a scavenger hunt trying to decipher clues and gather information. When I go to write and rewrite, I feel like someone trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle. I think that’s because I tend to focus a ton on structure — it’s hard for me to even begin writing without knowing where and how the pieces will fit together. 

4. What is the single best piece of writing advice anyone ever gave you?

My former editor Steve Merelman used to tell me to write without my notes: “Next time you have to write a big takeout, do the reporting. Then, write the first draft without looking at your notes. You put in placeholders for quotes and facts you know exist. You’ll remember the important stuff. Then, after the first draft, you go back and fill in details and flesh out the skeleton. This is a trick that forces your writing brain out of the thicket of facts and makes it assemble a coherent narrative, the sort you’d tell on a bar stool. It works.” I surely rolled my eyes when he first said this and in the years since it’s saved me every time. 

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