Ten Writers on Writing Advice: 2023

by Staff

For the last six years Poets & Writers Magazine has published Ten Questions, a weekly series that interviews authors of new works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. The idea is to celebrate the publication of their books while sharing insights about their professional journeys, offering the magazine’s readers both inspiration and practical tools to apply to their own craft and careers. Authors reveal useful, surprising, and sometimes touching details about their writing habits, artistic influences, experience working with agents and editors, and more about their path to publishing everything from debut books to the latest title in an already expansive oeuvre. As 2023 draws to a close, we share some of our favorite responses this year to the question that speaks directly to our desire for some guidance through the often-dark labyrinth of the literary life: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?  

Clockwise from upper left: Jamila Minnicks, Gabrielle Bates, Laird Hunt, Kwame Alexander, Nathan Go, Stacy Jane Grover, Robyn Schiff, Megan Kamalei Kakimoto, Curtis Chin, Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones. (Credit: Minnicks: Samia Minnicks; Bates: Liesa Cole; Hunt: Eva Sikelianos Hunt; Alexander: Portia Wiggins; Go: Crest Contrata; Grover: Elizabeth Keith; Schiff: Nicole Craine; Kakimoto: Van Wishingrad; Chin: Michelle Li, Studio Plum Photography)

“To write your story because no one else can write it. Writers approach the same person or event or era of historical significance through their own unique lens. When we lean into where our hearts guide us, the words on the page reflect our style. It is important to understand craft rules and to read widely, because we see how others follow, and break, those rules. But ultimately our work should reflect our own vision and our own voice.” —Jamila Minnicks, Moon Rise Over New Jessup

“‘Risk clarity.’ —Vievee Francis” —Gabrielle Bates, author of Judas Goat

“The late poet Robert Creeley once turned to me—in light of some self-deprecating remark I had made about my most recent book and projects—and told me, ‘Be serious!’ In a world that seems to care very little about what writers get up to, I have done my best to take that to heart.” —Laird Hunt, author of The Wide Terraqueous World

“As I write in the book, frustrated after receiving a C-minus in Nikki Giovanni’s advanced poetry class in college, I scheduled an appointment with her during her office hours. She told me, ‘Kwame, I can teach you how to write poetry, but I cannot teach you how to be interesting.’ While nineteen-year-old me thought those were pretty harsh words, it turns out that I have spent my entire writerly life walking around as an eager and engaged participant so I’d have something worth writing about.” —Kwame Alexander, author of Why Fathers Cry at Night: A Memoir in Love Poems, Recipes, Letters, and Remembrances

“All rules of writing are there to be broken. Otherwise, if we just simply follow all the rules, it’s not art: It’s ChatGPT, or artificial intelligence (AI). The paradox is that while we’re still learning to write, we do have to learn the rules. Only then can we become good enough to break them and form our own rules. I wonder if that’s what would differentiate human writers from AI.” —Nathan Go, author of Forgiving Imelda Marcos

“In Beyond the Writers’ Workshop: New Ways to Write Creative Nonfiction, Carol Bly writes, ‘Literature has low enough standards. But we can avoid writing the worst literature if we make ourselves ask ourselves, every two or three sentences we write, “Is that what I really think?’’”  —Stacy Jane Grover, author of Tar Hollow Trans

“Read more than you write.” —Robyn Schiff, author of Information Desk: An Epic

“I think a lot about something Kimberly King Parsons and Chelsea Bieker taught in their class called ‘Rejection, Revision, and Renewal,’ especially as I move into promoting the collection. I even wrote it on a note card and taped it to my desk: ‘Keep your head down and shut out the noise, because nothing beats a good writing day.’” —Megan Kamalei Kakimoto, author of Every Drop Is a Man’s Nightmare

“Have fun. Make friends.” —Curtis Chin, author of Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant

“Marry rich! (I didn’t take that advice.) The second-best piece of advice was to start something new when I’m in a rut. We have to have a little fun, too, if we want to stay in love with what we do. After The Hurricane Book is out, you best believe I’ll be working on some sci-fi erotica for a bit.” — Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones, author of The Hurricane Book: A Lyric History