Tag Archives: writing tips

Notes from #AWP18, Part C: “The Worst Writing Advice I Ever Got,” plus book fair porn (e.g. the requisite book haul on a hotel bed shot)

17 Mar

bookhaulIn my last post I promised blood. Well, I’ll just say I slid my boot off Friday night and it was like I was one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. I’m still limping. On to day 3!

What is a better breakfast than a leftover Cuban sandwich? Leftover fried oysters. Just kidding! The Cuban sandwich was much better. Day 3 was the best because Michael got a one-day pass and we got to roam the book fair together.

“The Worst Writing Advice I Ever Got” is an irresistible title, so of course we wrenched ourselves away from the book fair for it. Here, without narrative, a fun grab-bag of quotes:

  • “Creative writing aphorisms are as useful as Dr. Phil.” –Chris Abani
  • “Your book won’t save you. It’s just something you’re going to do because you’re nuts.” –Min Jin Lee
  • “How do I handle writer’s block? I don’t write.” –Ada Limón

I appreciated Limón’s story of navigating two groups of people: those who roll their eyes at “abuelita poems” and those who say, “where’s your abuelita poem?” And Melissa Stein‘s remark that dread may be a sign that advice you’ve been given may not be for you, anxiety might mean it’s worth exploring the challenge, and excitement is obviously a good sign. Abani noted that “Craft advice is only important if you’re asking questions. What are you trying to do?”

We stuck around for a reading and conversation between Min Jin Lee and Sigrid Nunez. Nunez on writing about sex: “The vocabulary is not there. It’s either coy, clinical, or filthy, none of which do justice to human sexuality.” At the book signing, Lee called Michael and me adorable. So that happened.

My attention span went out the door by mid-afternoon, so it was off to the hotel bar for wine and fried calamari! Naturally, someone in panda suit wandered in. panda

Next year in Portland! Maybe Seattleites can get some party buses organized…

Tin House Writer’s Workshop 2013

7 Aug

Whew, July was busy. I went to the Tin House Writer’s Workshop for the first time, and I hope not the last. And I went to New York for a week after that (more in a subsequent post). There’s still a ton of information from the conference sifting through the crevices of my mind, but here’s a grab bag of favorites, with some bolded text and lots of links just for fun.

  • I studied with Benjamin Percy, who advised our short story workshop to “Grab [readers] by the throat and drag ’em down the rabbit hole,” which might be my favorite writing advice, second only to “Forget the reuben. Focus on the ninjas.”
  • In a panel on publishing and Tin House, Rob Spillman advised, “Don’t send your work out when you’re feeling creative. Send it out when you’re feeling organized,” which is a useful reminder, and at the agent panel he called debut author advances “Capitalism at its scariest,” which is something that will lurk in a corner of my brain for a good long while.
  • On character, Jodi Angel said, “We don’t go to the page to make friends. We go to see something other and apart from who we are.”
  • Karen Russell gave a talk on the art of long sentences and how they can give an “occult sense of how another mind moves, from word to word.”
  • On place, Luis Urrea urged, “Don’t use place. Inhabit it. [….] You are a place. As a place, you must be a shame-free zone [….] Writing prompt: go out and rub dirt on your face.”
  • On time, Jess Walter suggested: if you’re stuck in a story, consider making the clock more specific.
  • Anthony Doerr‘s talk on failure ended with this.
  • Also, I fell in love with Dorothea Lasky. Her latest collection of poetry is Thunderbird.

Again and again, throughout the week, it seemed everyone suggested you should write the story that only you can write, that you should pay “ruthless and tender attention” (Steve Almond, there) to life. At least some of the talks will be available online sometime. In the meantime, here’s a link to podcasts from previous conferences




Stay in the loop! Sign up here for a short & sweet monthly newsletter of upcoming events, publications, practical writing tips, notes from AWP, and tiny bits on art, food, cities, and literature. Like this blog, but less often and right in your inbox.

Favorite Tips on the Writing Life

17 Aug

My Hugo to the Henry class wrapped up last night, and we ended the quarter by swapping favorite revision strategies and general craft advice. From time to time, I think back over the advice I’ve picked up from my writing teachers over the years, especially the ones that helped me through draft after draft of my novel, or helped me continue on in a general sense, and think, wouldn’t it be nice to gather them in one place? Well, here I go:

  • “Just trust yourself and write.”  -Jonathan Raban
  • “Every character you write is both you and not-you.” – Sonia Pilcer
  • “Wherever you feel closest to your writing, double the length of that paragraph.” – Shawn Wong
  • “There is no hierarchy of suffering.” – Chris Abani
  • “Plot is sequences with consequences. In a story, decisions matter because they will either make a difference or a character thinks they will make a difference.” – David Bosworth
  • “Whenever you get stuck with a piece of writing, do whatever is most unholy.”  -Heather McHugh
  • On grants & fellowships: “Apply and apply and apply and apply.” — also: sentence diagramming! – Maya Sonenberg
  • “Stop counting on your fingers.”  – Mrs. Rosenburger, first grade.

What writing advice have you found helpful? Add your own in the comments!

%d bloggers like this: