Creative Nonfiction

REQUIRED READING

You would think that by [the end of my second year as a New Yorker staff writer] I would have developed some confidence in writing a new story, but I hadn’t, and never would. To lack confidence at the outset seems rational to me.
— JOHN MCPHEE, DRAFT NO. 4

AS A PROFESSOR teaching creative writing to undergraduates, I’m asked dozens of questions about writing on a weekly basis because my students distrust struggle and mistakenly sense that they’re somehow doing it wrong. I try my best to respond with the few insights about the craft of writing that I’ve managed to cobble together over the years, making it clear that I’ve got the same writerly difficulties. Sometimes what I answer suffices, but more often, the student frowns, sighs, and asks what they really want to know: How the hell does writing work? I always respond with the only answer I know: However the hell you can get it to work.

Writing can sometimes seem to involve two contradictory yet simultaneous struggles: first, to continue to move forward as a writer, and second, to accept that periods of self-doubt and fallowness are part of the work. While, some action to take that will move them closer to actually writing.

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