One Story Workshop Day Five: We All Love Each Other Now

book-heart-valentineThis Friday marked the close of One Story’s fifth annual workshop at The Center for Fiction. Tea and coffee helped ward off the last-day-of-camp blues before students entered into their final workshops with Marie-Helene Bertino and Will Allison. They were reluctant to leave their workshop rooms, lingering to have story collections signed and group photos taken. One writer told me, as she headed for the elevator, “We all love each other now.” While One Story’s romcom may not be The Notebook, it does make for lasting writerly connections. Together we ate a final lunch of pizza and chatted about ways to keep in touch.

We gathered after lunch for a craft lecture by Hannah Tinti, the editor in chief of One Story, on getting “out of the slushpile”. She told us how to manage the business side of being a writer, by walking us through how to get our work published, starting with the basics of preparing it for submission (use a simple font like 12 pt. Times New Roman, number your pages, double-space, etc.), and figuring out where to send–be that to magazines, agents, or small presses. She showed us samples of query letters, and then shared some of her own rejections to show how there are different “levels” of rejection, and finally, what to do if and when you get an acceptance. But Hannah was also clear that “you are a writer if you’re writing, not if your work is published.” She ended the lecture with a quote from Barbara Kingsolver regarding rejected work. “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

Time for celebration! After hours of workshops, panels and talks, we travelled home to One Story’s office at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn, where students were able to see where the work behind publication occurs. We saw Patrick Ryan’s desk with its strikingly intellectual desk lamp, Hannah’s desk with drawings of demons, the calendars showing our publication schedule, the table where the editorial meetings occur, and, most importantly, the coffee machine that brews our coffee.

Then to The Cantine, the restaurant within the Old American Can Factory. Conference Director Michael Pollock began the night by recognizing the students’ endurance, “I hope you don’t want to write tomorrow. I hope you don’t want to write Sunday. But on Monday, I want you to write, and that’s when this workshop will matter.” Marie and Will thanked their classes, recognizing how easy it was to teach such brilliant people. Then each student gave a three-minute reading at our open mic. Their pieces were beautiful, competent and honest. As were Michael’s physics and whale jokes as he acted as our MC.

Maribeth Batcha, our publisher, and Hannah closed the event by welcoming the students to the One Story family. Writing is about community, so it was only fitting that after a delicious dinner catered by Runner & Stone, we took many class (or should I say family?) photos.

Hannah ended the night with Lauren Groff’s writing advice from “Writing Advice from the Authors of One Story”, a special edition of One Story magazine, that was printed and given out to all the students as a parting gift: “Give yourself the grace of failure – most good stories are made up of hundreds of invisible previous failures; read everything you can get your grubby mitts on; excise people from your lives who bring up turmoil and darkness, then write them clean in your fiction; if you have talent, it is a gift, so try your best to honor you gift by developing it; write every single day, because if you wait for the Muse to land she’ll cackle as she flies on by; don’t worry about publishing because if you write from a place of love and gratitude you will publish; try not to listen to advice about writing because the most important things you learn are things you’ll teach yourself.”

One Story Workshop Day One: New York City Writes the Story for You

Taken inside the Center for Fiction's famous elevator

Taken inside the Center for Fiction’s famous elevator

Readers and writers, One Story’s fifth annual workshop has begun! Some travelled thousands of miles, others dozens of city blocks to arrive this morning at New York City’s Center for Fiction. Ahead of us lies a week of craft lectures, agent panels, guest author talks, and workshops. Hannah Tinti, the Editor-in-Chief of One Story, welcomed students with coffee and tea before they split into their morning workshops led by our instructors, Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino.

After a lunch of tacos, salad and salsas so hot that they brought tears to our eyes, we sat down with Hannah, Will and Marie for a brief insight into the writerly lives of working authors. Each spoke of their path to writing, which featured ceiling-high piles of submissions and many rejection letters. Will Allison talked about his journey as a writer and an editor, and how, when he started working at Story magazine, it challenged him to make his own work better. Hannah then opened the panel to questions. “Describe your style,” one student asked. “Dark, twisted, funny,” she replied. When asked to give writing advice, Marie-Helene Bertino encouraged students to wander the streets of New York. Eavesdrop. Open your eyes. New York City will write the story for you.

After several hours talking about writing, it was time to get down to business. Hannah led a writing exercise given to her from one of her own mentors, Dani Shapiro (author of the great book Still Writing). The exercise is derived from Joe Brainard’s I Remember. She read from Brainard’s book:

“I remember the first time I met Frank O’Hara. He was walking down Second Avenue. It was a cool early spring evening but he was wearing only a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. And blue jeans. And moccasins. I remember that he seemed very sissy to me. Very theatrical. Decadent. I remember that I liked him instantly.”

Students wrote their own stories built of “I remember”, and shared their memories with the class, which were full of sharp details and all kinds of interesting experiences.

In the evening, Irina Reyn gave our first craft lecture on perspective. Using Frederick Reiken’s 2005 essay on the “author-narrator-character merge,” she revealed techniques of varying closeness and distance in narration. “The one that feels the most on fire, that’s the right perspective,” she said.

I (will) remember the first day of the One Story workshop. Stay tuned for more updates!