Ten Writers on Writing Advice: 2021

by Staff

Nearly two hundred writers have been featured in our Ten Questions series since it first debuted in 2018. Each was asked to respond to roughly the same set of questions, but the resulting archive is anything but repetitive. Just as the books featured are various, so too are the voices of the authors. (An endlessly fascinating exercise: Consider how an author’s interviewing voice coincides with or deviates from the voice in their prose or poetry.) To showcase this range and to celebrate making it through another year, our editors have selected ten of their favorite responses to the final question of the interview: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?

Clockwise from upper left: Alex Dimitrov, Jana Larson, Jack Wang, Julia Sanches, Jaime Cortez, Neel Patel, Jo Ann Beard, Angela Hume, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Kaitlyn Greenidge. (Credit: Dimitrov: Sylvie Rosokoff; Larson: Shelly Mosman; Wang: Mike Grippi; Sanches: Dagan Farancz; Cortez: Mark Smotroff; Patel: Bradford Rogne; Beard: Franco Vogt; Lahiri: Marco Delogu; Greenidge: Syreeta McFadden)

“‘Don’t do it.’ Because that just made me want to do it even more.” —Neel Patel, author of Tell Me How to Be

“Isak Dinesen said, ‘Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.’ The trick is to cultivate that Zen, to not get too high or too low. You’re neither the genius nor the failure you think you are.” —Jack Wang, author of We Two Alone

“There’s no perfect writing advice. It all depends on your particular artistic moment. But if you are in this for the long haul, it’s valuable to know that all you understand about yourself as an artist—your working habits, your interests, your needs—will shift as you grow and life changes. It’s helpful to expect that and roll with it rather than mourn a past perfect writing life or long for a future one that is never coming.” —Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of Libertie

“Hearing various versions of ‘don’t wait for the muse, don’t wait for inspiration, just do the writing’ has effectively incinerated most of the woo woo from my thoughts of how and why to write. I am grateful for that.” —Jaime Cortez, author of Gordo

“Patricia Weaver Francisco, after watching me struggle with this book for many years, said, ‘You need to just choose an island and swim to it.’” —Jana Larson, author of Reel Bay

“A long-ago student named Zac said about an essay we were workshopping: ‘I’m looking at a circle where I’d like to see a sphere.’” —Jo Ann Beard, author of Festival Days

“I learned from my colleague Charlotte Whittle to always pay attention to how sentences end. You never want them to fizzle, unless the fizzle is the point.” —Julia Sanches, translator of Migratory Birds

“Spend as much time alone as possible.” —Alex Dimitrov, author of Love and Other Poems

“One must hear the story.” —Jhumpa Lahiri, translator of Trust

“In a poem about feeling some overwhelm around her jobs to care for family, friends, and community, Pat Parker wrote, “The next person who asks / ‘Have you written anything new?’ / just might get hit.” Parker is saying a lot here. One important thing that I think she’s saying is: Don’t stress if you’re not writing all the time, because you’re probably busy helping keep the people you love alive, and for that you’re a fucking hero.” —Angela Hume, author of Interventions for Women