The End of the Beginning: The Final Day of One Story Summer Writer’s Workshop

One Story's editor-in-chief Hannah Tinti lectures about the publishing industry and encourages workship writers to "never give up."

As all good things must, the One Story Summer Writer’s Workshop came to an end this past Friday. The final day kicked off as all the others before, yet there was a tinge of nostalgia to the morning workshops as OS editors Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino gave their final critiques.

With all the whirlwind events and information, it’s easy to leave a workshop feeling a combination of excitement and also confusion of what to do next. OS Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti stepped up to give some tips and answered students’ questions about the business side of writing for our last afternoon lecture.

First, she said, always keep in mind:“It’s not publishing that makes you a writer. Writing makes you a writer.” But once you have a manuscript as polished as you can make it, it’s time to put on your “business hat.” Adding another perspective to the agent’s panel discussion from Monday, Hannah encouraged the workshop writers to look for agents carefully and selectively. Find the agent that’s the right fit for you. Don’t just sign up with the first agent you find or comes you way—make sure they represent similar authors and related genres. “It will save you some heartache,” she advised.

If you’re working on a collection, take the same care when looking for places to submit your stories. Check out up and coming literary magazines. There are a lot of them out there. Hannah suggested looking at prize-winning anthologies such as the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Short Stories. Also, subscribing to magazines like Poets & Writers and Publishers Weekly will keep you informed of what’s current.

At the end of the talk, Hannah shared some of her own rejection letters. She stressed the importance of behaving professionally even in the face of rejection. We also got to see examples of other authors who were rejected (Harry Potter, rejected twelve times! and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room labeled as “hopelessly bad.”) Seeing these letters helped put the daunting taks of submitting into perspective, and also provided laughs and comfort for the workshoppers. “It’s not always the best writer in the room who gets published,” said Tinti. “It’s the most stubborn—the one who keeps trying to improve their writing and doesn’t give up.”

One Story Summer Writer's Workshop final dinner and student reading

With hopes lifted and a buzz of adrenaline similar to that last-day-of-school feeling, the talented troupe of twenty gathered one last time for dinner and a student reading at Cabinet Magazine’s beautiful event space. Each writer read a few minutes of his / her own work, interrupted periodically by staff speeches and thank-yous in addition to a slideshow of pictures from the week matched to Lenny Kravitz’s “It Ain’t Over till It’s Over” (selection courtesy of workshop-coordinator Michael J. Pollock).

Perhaps the most wonderful part of the evening (besides the opportunity to hear everyone’s work) was the continuous and gracious thanking. Marie-Helene gave a wonderfully sweet speech thanking the One Story staff for all of our dedicated work (in which she matched each staff member to various parts of the body) as well as genuine gratitude from workshop students and staff. A nostalgic mood pervaded the night, despite the fact that the workshop was only for one week. However, I spoke to one of the workshop participants about the comraderie present and she pointed out how amazing it was that everyone could open up and share a part of themselves in so little time to a group of perfect strangers.

A writer’s workshop is a vulnerable experience indeed and it is perhaps this sharing of words that make workshops both intense and unique.  And to continue with Marie’s metaphor for the One Story body, if I may, the writers from this summer’s workshop are like the lungs: bringing in fresh air, and pushing out again, to someplace new.

Second Helpings: One Story Summer Writer’s Workshop, Day Two

After resting up from day one, the spirited writers of our Summer Workshop jumped into their second action-packed day with gusto. In the morning, the twenty students divided into groups of ten as they did the day before for their daily workshop with One Story editors Marie-Helene Bertino and Will Allison.

Early in the afternoon, award-winning author of Bee Season Myla Goldberg delivered a craft lecture about the relationship between acting and writing. Using Maile Meloy’s short story “Paint” as a springboard for discussion, Myla covered many topics about creating believable characters (ask yourself: what they would do on a Saturday morning? What flavor of ice cream would they prefer?) and helpful tips about what makes dialogue and action most realistic (she suggested having a private space for those moments when you want to act out facial expressions or read aloud for that one character that has a sarcastic drawl). Yet the core of her lecture focused primarily on the importance of imagination to make a character three-dimensional. “If you do a good acting job,” Myla said, “you can be anyone you want to be. There are no limitations.” She encouraged writers to step out of their comfort zones, and try writing characters that differ in age and gender. “It’s all about stretching your brain and the amazing power of empathy.”

After a break to either power-nap at the hotel, grab a bite at a Park Slope café or read through workshop pieces, the group gathered once again for the evening panel. Managing editor Tanya Rey moderated an informative discussion about the elusive yet alluring MFA degree with representatives from NYU, Brooklyn College, Vermont College and Sarah Lawrence College. Each representative went through the basics of his or her MFA program, including the application process, selection of students, pros and cons of the degree as well as the overarching question: what will an MFA degree do for me? The panelists were honest and straightforward: “There is no real professional reason [to get an MFA],” said Brooklyn College Program Director Joshua Henkin. “You are setting aside two years to focus intently on your writing. The degree is the experience.” Each representative also encouraged writers not to get discouraged if they don’t get into their desired program the first time around.  Zachary Sussman, from NYU, also recommended that undergraduates wait a few years before applying, as the Master’s programs are intense and very different from an undergraduate degree. “When you’re older, you’ll have more perspective on how to best use your time,” he said. “Just because you get in, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should go then.”

Tune in tomorrow for more updates from the trenches and in the meantime, be sure to check out the new issue of One Story, Elissa Schappell’s “The Joy of Cooking”!

One Story Staff Summer Reading List

Whether you’re actually at the beach or just lying on a beach towel atop your mattress with a fan angled towards you, the books on Flavor Pill’s 10 Decidedly Highbrow But Still Beach-Appropriate Summer Reads should certainly keep you entertained. The list includes a variety of authors and genres: ranging from Virginia Woolf to John Waters, a graphic novel to a nonfiction account of a sneaky NASA intern who tried to steal a piece of the moon (why don’t One Story interns have access to such items?). Be it a beach chair, hammock, or a seat on the subway, you can maintain a balance of sophistication and class alongside some well-deserved indulgence with these reads.

Here at One Story, I asked my fellow interns and managing editor Tanya Rey to share what’s on their summer reading lists:

Eva Jablow, InternUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri: I read Interpreter of Maladies three times in high school and it’s about time I see what else Lahiri can do. Also, I’m secretly hoping she sees this and decides that she will, in fact, speak at my Commencement (at Connecticut College) next spring. (Please, Jhumpa!)

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger: Her first novel The Time Traveler’s Wife got me out of a serious book slump a few years ago, so this is my act of gratitude and excited anticipation.

Abby Ryder-Huth, InternLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is always one of my favorite summertime authors—his writing just feels so lush and verdant. Pretty much anything he’s written goes well with hot, languid afternoons. But Love in the Time of Cholera feels especially fitting with its all-around theme of heat. Read it with a glass of something cold and sweet, preferably with a hibiscus flower in your hair.

Tanya Rey, Managing EditorWhite Woman on a Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey: I just got back from Trinidad and picked this book up while I was there. I like reading novels set in the places I travel to, and this one came highly recommended. It’s about a British couple living in Trinidad in the 1950s, amid racial tensions and the beginnings of the Black Power movement. From what I understand this is one of the most defining times in the country’s history. Plus, I think we’d all agree that any book set on an island is the definition of “beach read.”

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy: I’ll admit it, I’m pretty much a Cormac McCarthy virgin. This brings me great shame. I figure there’s no better time than the summer to read a suspenseful, Western love story.

Rose Heithoff, Intern (Me)The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker: Just some casual trauma reading to prepare for my senior thesis on the (possible) topic of World War I and post-traumatic stress disorder in postmodern literature.

Bossypants by Tina Fey: When I find myself having graphic dreams of head wounds and trenches, I switch over immediately.

So whether you take up Flavor Pill’s suggestions (and!) or follow in a few of One Story staff’s reading traces, you should have plenty of fun and literary language to fill you up for the summer.  This is only after you’ve devoured your latest issue of One Story, of course. Sunscreen advised for all reading locations.