The Atlantic

The Best Writing Advice of 2016

Highlights from 12 months of interviews with writers about their craft and the authors they love
Source: Zak Bickel / Katie Martin / Paul Spella / The Atlantic

2016 was not an easy year to be a writer. Not just because of the constant, concentration-wrecking pull of our devices, their glowing screens beckoning with the promise of fresh horrors. I’ve spoken with many writers, in recent months, who seem to be facing a deeper, starker crisis of purpose since the election of Donald Trump. They’re asking themselves: Is making literature an acceptable pursuit in a world with such urgent, tangible needs? And if so, how should I use my words?

It’s a deeply personal line of questioning, and I can’t supply any answers here—I’m still working things out for myself. (I will recommend Bob Shacochis’s 2013 essay for this series, though, which articulates some of the key things to consider.) But I will say this: After interviewing 15 writers for “By Heart” in 2016, I’m more convinced than ever that their creative work is worthwhile. Even during chaotic times. Maybe especially then.

For the past three years (see 2013, 2014, and 2015), I’ve compiled the best writing advice from this series. In 2016, as in the past, authors shared some great insights—Alice Mattison explained how to structure a short story without a traditional plot, for instance, while Ethan Canin unpacked the art of the last line. But the bulk of the advice writers offered this year was not about “craft,” so much, as about the work of becoming a

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