One Story Summer Conference Day 3: Keep Writing

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Miche Hu. Enjoy! –LV

The third day of One Story’s Summer Writers Conference began with another round of morning workshops led by Patrick Ryan and Will Allison. The afternoon craft lecture, which focused on the process of submitting work and getting out of the slush pile, was led by Hannah Tinti, One Story cofounder and author of the new novel The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley.

Tinti discussed what to do and not to do and what to believe and not believe when putting work out into the world. She outlined some important, often overlooked details of submission formatting while also highlighting the importance of heart and honesty when writing stories. Examples from her own experiences reading slush for The Boston Review and The Atlantic Monthly, as well as transcripts of rejection letters she had received for her own work helped writers to understand some of the challenges associated with submitting work. Particularly helpful were the different resources and anthologies to read and to use as resources for finding the places to submit.

Three trusted sources for Tinti are The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and The O’Henry Prize Stories.

Tinti’s discussion of rejection letters, and their various forms, resonated with workshop writers. She broke down the differences between form rejections and more personalized rejections, and stressed that any letter that expressed interest seeing more of a writer’s work was cause for celebration. “You’re a writer if you’re writing, not if you’re published,” Hannah reminded us, echoing earlier advice from craft lecturer Myla Goldberg and the previous night’s agent panel. After the lecture, all were invited to peruse the many different literary magazines on display at the back of the room and take any home, with the knowledge that the work inside was borne out of both rejection and tenacity.

After a short break for writing and dinner, workshop writers reconvened at Community Bookstore for a reading of Lisa Ko’s debut novel, The Leavers. A One Story Debutante, Lisa Ko published “Proper Girls” in One Teen Story in 2013 (when her newly published novel was still being written—and rewritten). The novel follows the double narrative of Deming Guo and his mother, Polly. Having just returned from a week-long meditation retreat, Lisa Ko read an excerpt from the novel about last time Deming sees his mother, just before her disappearance. Deming’s observations of his mother reveal his own character traits—he remembers his mother’s hands rubbed raw and wishes for a super lotion that can grow her new skin, how she says motherfucker and he walks in step to the syllables as he practices the word.

During the Q&A, Ko and Patrick Ryan discussed how she used point-of-view to discover her characters, and her little celebrations after winning the PEN/Bellwether Prize. Both writers shared the various ways they disposed of unused pieces of their stories. Ryan does not delete anything, though he rarely revisits. Ko admitted that she will often remember certain sentences or descriptions and “pluck it from the graveyard”—the graveyard being the file where she stores her unused writing. Lisa also talked about how she perseveres through the difficult, stagnant moments by setting daily goals for herself: fifty rejections a day. “I like to aim for rejection,” she said. As the crowd listened to her novel excerpt and the tales of her struggles with the publication process, they were reminded of what often seems hidden from writers: publication is the outcome of a lot of “no.” But, as Tinti had stressed in her lecture earlier in the day, it’s not publication that makes a writer a writer—it’s the act of writing. The lesson learned on Day 3 of the Conference was simple, but not necessarily easy: keep writing.

One Story Workshop Day 4: Take a Moment to Celebrate

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Michelle Hu and Coryna Ogunseitan. Enjoy!–HT

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Even Community Bookstore’s resident cat is entranced by Anna Solomon’s new novel, LEAVING LUCY PEAR

Today at the Summer Workshop, writers powered through their fourth day, packed with morning workshops taught by Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, Hannah Tinti’s lecture on getting “Out of the Slushpile” and attending Anna Solomon’s launch of her newest book, Leaving Lucy Pear at Brooklyn’s own Community Bookstore.

Although “Out of the Slush Pile” suggests a more pragmatic lesson than an inspiring one, Hannah continued the pattern of lectures this week by reminding us all that writing is hard loving and loving hard. She asked the audience to try as best as they can to separate the writing process from the publication process. The room filled with a gentle silence as they were told that “not being published doesn’t mean you’re not a writer.” Writing is about the heartbeat, about authenticity. Publication is a business hat, one you wear when the sun gets too hot.

Hannah then began her talk, quickly breaking up the process into three digestible parts: preparing your work, compiling a list of places to send, and hearing back.

PREPARATION: The formalities of hard and digital submissions were laid out in specific details from fonts (Patrick’s favorite is Garamond) to email follow ups. A specific pet peeve, one shared by many editors, is page numbering (always number the pages).

SENDING (short stories to magazine): Hannah sited Best American Short Stories, The O’ Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthologies as great ways of finding which publications are gaining attention. In general when submitting, one should consider the magazine’s reputation and circulation. It’s also nice to be paid.

SENDING (manuscripts to agents): When looking to query literary agents, Hannah cautioned writers to do their research. As explained at the Agents Panel on Tuesday night, the writer/ agent relationship is a more delicate one determined by compatibility between persons and ideas. Agents’ qualifications are not determined by who they are but the people they know and the books they represent. It is important to be more selective in how many you submit to at once (preferably less than 5), and the specificity of your address to them, noting any familiarity with their work or other points of connection.

HEARING BACK: After breaking down submissions and providing tips for cover letters, Hannah talked to the group about acceptance and rejection. Through example letters, writers reviewed the different tiers of rejection and learned their varying significance. A rejection is not a hard No. The coded hints (the inclusion of their name, a story title, or a personal note) help writers better understand the spectrum between yes and no. “The editors are having a conversation with you,” Hannah said. By being able to decipher their cues, writers can begin to talk back.

Later on in the evening, writers reconvened a few blocks away, at the Community Bookstore for Anna Solomon’s launch of her new novel, Leaving Lucy Pear. The bookstore’s cat purred and listened intently as Anna began reading from the opening chapter, describing a young woman, Bea, leaving her baby in a pear field, then watching behind a stone wall as another woman, Emma, picked up the baby and adopted her as her own. During the Q & A, moderated by Hannah, Anna not only talked about her revision and writing process, but talked candidly about her ideas of motherhood, growing up Jewish, and her hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

During the event, as we listened to and celebrated with Anna Solomon, understanding all the labor and the love she put into creating Leaving Lucy Pear, we were reminded of what Hannah said about acceptances in her afternoon lecture. “When one comes your way, stop and celebrate.” Acceptances are rare, and sometimes, their importance isn’t easily understood by family or friends. “So take a moment,” Hannah said, “and feel exactly what you feel. Raise a glass with some fellow writers. They are the ones who will truly understand how hard you worked to make this happen.”

One Story Workshop Day 1: Subvert Expectations

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Michelle Hu. Enjoy!–HT

WSDayoneHuzzah! One Story’s seventh annual Summer Workshop for Writers has begun. Writers arrived at the Old American Can Factory and began Sunday night with a cocktail reception, filling the floor with excited and nervous conversation. The room quickly became boisterous as more names were exchanged and glasses of wine and beer were consumed. Students were introduced to the One Story team and their instructors, our own Patrick Ryan and Will Allison, in preparation for the week ahead, where they’ll be attending morning workshops, craft lectures, and a variety of panels on the business of publishing. After a friendly welcome, the students went on a tour of the can factory, and visited our office, where they heard about the creation of One Story from its co-founders, Maribeth Batcha and Hannah Tinti.

The first official day of the conference began the next day with morning workshops, where Patrick and Will led in-depth discussions on stories and novel excerpts from each student. A growing familiarity between writers became apparent in the lunch that followed.

Afterwards, students gathered for the first of the Craft Lecture series with author Myla Goldberg, who began with a brief announcement about the subjectivity of writing (even after it is published). Myla focused her lecture on creating a space that allowed for productive disagreement. Lauren Groff’s “L. DeBard and Aliette,” an unusual love story that takes place in a time of illness, became an avenue to explore how Groff develops the relationship between the writer and the reader. Students took Myla’s invitation to explore ambiguity and disagreement in the story.

Reading, a process between the writer and the reader, is not one-sided, and the goal, Myla said, “is to foster collaboration with just the right amount of information.” In the lecture, students explored the ways Groff’s intentional choices create that mutual experience. The story, written in present tense, gives the characters’ experiences a real life immediacy. The choice to divulge certain details non-sequentially, however, allows her to not alienate the reader but challenge their ability to read about difficult topics. Similarly, the exclusion of details also contributes to the collaborative experience. Myla discussed the way Groff writes about sex through exclusion and how that creates moments that are at once delicate and also provocative. In what Groff chooses to not disclose, the reader is given an active role in how they experience and what they fill the moments with.

To end the lecture, Myla told the students how she makes space for writing and gave some advice. In summary: Writing is play! She reminded us that writing began before we were given the words for it. The creation of imaginary lives and worlds started with our childhood vividness. In wide arm gestures, Myla told us that writing is as active and away from the page as acting. Get an empty room, she says, and physically act out what the character is doing, grimaces and laughter alike.

Another way of looking at writing as play is through something Myla mentioned earlier in her lecture: “Subvert the expectation.” A line that applies to the hesitation most writers feel. When beginning to write it is crucial to remember to play, to subvert, and to undo expectations. She left us all with the reminder that writing is undoing as much as it is doing. But above all else, it’s fun.

After an afternoon social break with snacks and drinks, the day ended with an informal “Meet the Instructors” conversation, moderated by One Story Publisher Maribeth Batcha. Patrick Ryan and Will Allison discussed and answered questions about how they started as writers and gave some tips for the submission process. As lightening and flood warnings briefly distracted the students, it seemed as if even the weather was fortifying the duality of a writer’s life. While some took the opportunity of the thunder storm to continue talking to their peers after the event, others hugged their bags and sprinted through the river-ed streets with their heels kicked high.