One Story Workshop Day 5: Magnet Boards & Family Dinners

Dear Readers: Over this past week, One Story hosted our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally have been chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Our final write up is by Coryna Ogunseitan. Thanks, ladies, for writing up these great posts!–HT

One Story staff poses on the final night

One Story staff poses on the final night

After hours and hours of writing, reading, listening, and learning, One Story’s Summer Workshop has come to an end. The last day of the week began as usual; students were now familiar with the routine, and those who got to the Canteen early snacked and chatted with familiar friendliness. Most were thinking about the reading to take place later that evening, discussing what work they might share and different reading techniques. Students whose pieces were yet to be discussed were eager finally to showcase their writing in the morning’s workshops with Patrick Ryan and Will Allison.

After lunch, everyone gathered for Ann Napolitano’s craft lecture, which she referred to as “more of a TED Talk”. If what she meant by “like a TED Talk” was that her lecture would be more than inspiring, the comparison was spot on: Ann told workshop students about techniques by which they could process the world in order to become better writers. She advised everyone to pay attention to their internal “calibrated magnet” – inside each and every one of us is a particular set of traits or experiences that make us attracted to certain subjects or ideas. There are the best things to write about, the things that stick. Ann gave examples that ranged from the noble (like motherhood, the paramount theme in Anna Solomon’s reading Thursday night) to the grotesque (Ann once met a writer who was obsessed by newspaper articles about dead babies). She stressed that everyone who intends to write should be deeply familiar with what sticks to her magnet board, explaining that it is easy for mainstream tastes to overwhelm individual tastes when we let pop culture dominate most of our thoughts.

To illustrate each individual’s unique perspective, Ann revisited photographs she had asked students to take of “something that catches your eye”. There were sunsets, dead birds, funny notes, and dogs. She then asked everyone to write a sentence about each of five photos. When everyone read aloud, it became even clearer how particular each writer’s tastes were: while some described the image they saw in front of them, others cracked jokes and still others introduced first-person narrators. Ann emphasized that what sets a writer apart is not only what she sees in the world, but how she sees it.

After the lecture and exercise, students took a break for the afternoon. Many went to practice for the fast-approaching reading, and joked about how many glasses of wine a writer should have before getting on stage. It hardly seemed that any time had passed when writers returned, dressed up with heels and well-practiced stories, ready to culminate the effort and learning of the week.

Although many readers confessed to being anxious, no one’s nerves were obvious: everyone read smoothly and confidently from a selection of work as varied as the group itself. A vasectomy, turduckens, and being home alone were among the many rich subjects addressed. Workshop students received their fellow writers’ work, some serious, some humorous, with laughter and enthusiasm.

Once the reading had ended, the relieved students settled into their seats around the giant table set for 29 people, and, over a delicious dinner made by Runner & Stone, talked about the highlights of their weeks. As the evening winded down, everyone exchanged phone numbers, eager to keep in touch with other writers whose vision and criticism participants had appreciated. We ended the night with laughter and song, after Hannah announced that we were all now part of the One Story family.

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

Anna.Cat

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 3: Find the Action in Your Story

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 Kally Patz and Coryna Ogunseitan. Enjoy!–HT

Victor

Victor LaValle talks about ACTION!

Alice Munro and the Brothers Grimm may not appear to have much in common. Aside from, of course, their enormous talent, the writers are stylistically very different. But today, they were two of four celebrated authors on the syllabus for Victor LaValle’s Craft Lecture. After students finished two hours of rigorous workshopping with Patrick Ryan and Will Allison, and enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by Runner & Stone, we all gathered in the Canteen to take a closer look at ACTION & PLOT.

LaValle began by drawing our attention to a key element of storytelling that, despite its simplicity, is overlooked by many literary writers: present, physical action. He said that when he was an MFA candidate at Columbia, no one ever asked the basic question, “Are your characters doing anything?”

One Story workshop students then read aloud, popcorn-style, three of the stories LaValle had assigned and broke them down according to action, like a comic strip. For each new action, LaValle drew a new box, inside of which he wrote no more than two or three words. (For example, “Mike walks,” or “Mike gets lost.”) The exercise helped the students visualize each story, as they might a movie script, highlighting action as something concrete, progressing step by step. LaValle encouraged breaking down our own stories–and the stories of authors we love–in this same way, to see how the physical action relates to the overall meaning of the piece.

According to LaValle, what was important was that readers and writers alike were able to see why each action was “justified.” He cited a beautiful moment in Alice Munro’s story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” when the protagonist, suffering from dementia, is leaving her home to move into an assisted-living facility, and erases the mark a “cheap black house shoe” left on the floor. Not only is she permanently leaving the home in which she lived most of her adult life; she is erasing what LaValle called “the last trace of herself.” Workshop students left the class talking about the Munro story, many intending to reread it at home looking for intentional, meaningful action.

Some One Story workshop students snuck off to nap—we mean write!—but most stuck around to hear Hannah Tinti and Ann Napolitano’s advice on giving a good public reading, in preparation for open mic on Friday. Students took notes as Hannah and Ann shared tips on getting over the jitters, then tried out their new skills with a classic author used by orators young and old: Dr. Seuss. We were feeling inspired and composed this short tribute in preparation for the evening’s Book Editor Panel:

Big press
Small press
Old press
New press.
This one has a bestseller.
This one treats new authors better.
Say! What a lot
Of editors there are.

Indeed, there were a lot of book editors in the Can Factory last night. The panel, moderated by One Story’s Managing Editor Lena Valencia, included Sarah Bowlin from Henry Holt, Brinda Ayer from Restless Books, Yukia Igarashi from Catapult, and Margaux Weisman From William Morrow/Harper Collins. (Unfortunately, we couldn’t work all of this into the “One Fish Two Fish” syntax.)

The editors started off by talking about how they got into the publishing industry. According to Margaux, the secret is to work 72 jobs and spend your free time hunting down literary agents. There was some nervous laughter in the room, but she assured us that wasn’t a joke.

Things cheered up a bit when the editors talked about what gets them excited. Sarah told us about how she got the rights to Sheila Heiti’s How Should a Person Be? Nobody wanted it after it sold poorly in Canada, but, with some editing and an extra 8,000 words, it became a breakthrough novel at Henry Holt. Everyone geeked out and Brinda asked if that really happened. Sarah confirmed that it really did. A little bit of a book editor fantasy for you.

Inevitably, we came to the age-old question: big or little, which press fits best? Everyone seemed to agree that small presses are a good home for new authors or authors who want to try something a little different. A short story collection, for instance, might do better at a small press that can afford to take a risk. Brinda said that small presses have almost become a hunting ground for larger presses looking for emerging authors. While miming a vulture, she told us about how Farrar, Straus and Giroux bought the paperback-rights to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle after it did well at Archipelago, a small press down the hall from the One Story office. Brinda’s vulture demonstration got us thinking. We’ve been suspicious of the hawks that live on the can factory’s fire-escape in the past, but now we’re absolutely certain: they are publishing spies!

After the panel was over, editors mixed with students, sharing glasses of wine and beer and answering questions about the business of publishing. Each day of the workshop, the possibility of publishing a book one day seems more concrete and possible. As we left the can factory and wandered out into the night, we looked up at the massive nest of sticks perched at the top of the fire-escape, and wondered if the hawks were watching.

 

One Story Workshop Day 2: Dating Your Reader

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 Kally Patz and Jess Pane. Enjoy!–HT

PatrickSocks

Planet socks worn today by editor & teacher Patrick Ryan, author of THE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS

The One Story Workshop might officially be about writing, but, really, it’s all about dating. Last night, Patrick Ryan and Will Allison encouraged writers to use their romantic know-how when contacting agents and editors. (This comforted a few, but alarmed those with memories of blind dates gone terribly awry.)

Writing, as it turns out, is no different. Hannah Tinti’s craft lecture today covered how to write strong beginnings, resonant endings, and discover the layers hidden beneath the surface of our stories. It was also about how a good first page is just like a good first date. You might want to spruce up with some solid grammar, wash off any typos, and put on something a little bit different before heading out the door. Usually, it doesn’t take Hannah more than a page to know if the relationship is going anywhere. When she’s on a date with a story, she looks for five things right away:

(1) Is the writing good on a sentence level?
(2) How fast do I get sucked in?
(3) Is there something new?
(4) What is the story?
(5) Is the writer in control?

First impressions are important, but even a good start can be overshadowed by how things end. Hannah has seen it again and again: a relationship is going well, she’s enjoying the story’s company, and it ends too soon.

“I can tell when an author was just exhausted with a piece and pressed send,” Hannah said. “When you have that thought, put it in a drawer. Let the story get some air.”

She advised that authors take some time to remember why they got involved with their story in the first place. Some writers in the audience nodded, though it was unclear whether they were thinking about an old story or an old flame.

Later in the evening, One Story welcomed literary agents Sarah Burnes, Rebecca Gradinger, and Jim Rutman to the Old American Can Factory for a discussion, moderated by Hannah (who used to work at an agency herself), on when and how a writer might need an agent.

First, they covered what an agent actually does. The agent is the intermediary between the writer’s manuscript and the published book. It’s a business relationship. They deal with the contracts, figuring out when the book is ready, and how much effort needs to go into a project before they send it out to publishers. And, yes, manuscripts almost always need work before they are sent out.

All the agents on the panel stressed that the most important thing to remember when finding an agent, is to find the right one. This is the person who you want to be in a relationship with for your career. A good agent understands your work and will fight for it. It means they will find a publisher that is also passionate about the work because the publisher should also fight for the success of a book.

While what draws an agent to a particular piece of work may be personal, the agents gave some helpful hints about what questions to ask and when is it appropriate to approach an agent.

Some questions to ask when approaching an agent:

  • What is your communication style? (Yes, your agent should always call you back.)
  • Do you do editorial work? (Some agents don’t do editorial work and ask that the writer find an outside editor.)
  • Do you sell foreign rights in-house or do you use a co-agent?
  • Does your firm work with a film agent?
  • What are some deals that you’ve done recently?

When it is appropriate to approach an agent:

  1. A writer should always review the submission guidelines on the website. Your query letter should be good. Don’t write a bad one.
  2. Send something when you have something to sell. Meaning you believe you have a finished manuscript. Beginning, middle, and end.
  3. Send something when you have something you’re proud of. For example, if you know the agent will tell you it doesn’t start until pg. 30, then work on the manuscript until it starts on pg. 1.
  4. Don’t solicit more than one agent at one literary agency. But you may solicit more than one agent if they are at different agencies.
  5. If you have a story collection, the most successful story collections have stories that have been published in known literary journals and/or the collections are theme-driven with a singular idea guiding the collection.
  6. Research the agents before you submit to them–try and find an agent who represents books similar to the one you’re trying to sell.

When it comes to rejection, just keep trying. The panel also suggested taking feedback from your rejections and consider how to possibly incorporate it into the manuscript before sending it out again. Patience is the most important part of finding an agent and publisher. If an agent is offering feedback, but still saying no, it means they really thought about your work and they would like to see it out in the literary world. Maybe it just wasn’t the right fit for them. As Sarah Burnes said, “If someone leaves the door open, it is genuine.”

Several people in the audience asked questions about numbers. How many copies does a story collection actually sell? What is the difference between publishing with a small press vs. a commercial press? Tomorrow night, on our Editor Panel, we’ll be going into more details. But for further information, Hannah recommended Lincoln Michel’s article at Electric Literature “Everything You Wanted to Know About Book Sales (But Were to Afraid to Ask).” And here is the Atlantic Monthly article, “Why American Publishing Needs Indie Presses,” mentioned by Sarah Burnes. Enjoy!

 

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.

One Story Workshop Day Five: Last Day of Camp

flowers. (448x640)Our final recap is brought to you by Tony Wei-Ling. Thanks to all of the interns for their stellar work this week! We couldn’t have done the workshop without you. -HT

And so One Story’s Summer Workshop for Writers draws to its grand finale!

In the morning, Will Allison and Patrick Ryan taught their last workshops, giving editorial feedback to each student and answering any lingering questions they might have.

After lunch, our writers sat down for a nuts-and-bolts industry talk from One Story Editor-in-Chief Hannah Tinti, who discussed different ways to get out of the “slush pile”: the giant mess of unsolicited manuscripts that come through the doors of any magazine or literary agency.

Hannah began with simple presentation tips – how to make your submission fit industry standards and be kinder on the reader’s eyes and laptop. (The topic of writing cover letters made everyone anxious, but Hannah calmed us by walking us through a basic template.)

“Don’t overthink it,” she said. “The bio especially. Keep it simple and short. The first read, whether it’s for an agent or a magazine or a press, is almost certainly done by an assistant, an intern, or a volunteer. They are the first hurdle you must get over. So thank them for their time, and be courteous.”

More complicated, but less stressful, was Hannah’s advice on researching and submitting work strategically. “You want to find a place that publishes writing like your own, a magazine that matches your aesthetic. Most places – especially small presses – have a strong point-of-view.” The same went for agents: submit to people who represent writers you admire, authors you’d be comfortable “being in a line-up” with. Hannah didn’t just recommend doing research beforehand, but outlined how to do so, emphasizing the AWP conference and yearly anthologies as the best way to get to know the field.

That evening, everyone gathered one last time at the Can Factory for a (slightly nervous) cocktail hour before our student reading. But the nerves disappeared once each writer took the podium, or rather stage. Who knew introverted writers could be such good performers? Each student took on a different readerly voice and pace as they presented their work, which ranged from whimsical poetry to experimental short fiction to Borgesian existential horror.

Hannah broke up the reading with a brief tribute to her former teacher E. L. Doctorow, a literary giant who passed away this week. Then, to close out the evening, she was joined by instructors Will and Patrick, and together they sang/spoke a group campfire version of “Eye of the Tiger” on Hannah’s ukulele. When dinner arrived (gnocchi with fresh peas and mint, and casarecce with tomato, chard, and anchovies), we refilled our drinks and relaxed for a few final hours with new friends.

Goodbyes were difficult, and lingering. Many promised to meet up again, and to exchange manuscripts over coffee or drinks. It many ways it felt like the last day of camp. Everyone was tired but full of new experiences and new friendships.  “This isn’t goodbye for real!” people said as they hugged, “I’ll see you very soon.”

That’s it for the 2015 One Story Writers Workshop. We’ll see you next year!

 

One Story Workshop Day 4: Calvin Baker & the Writer’s Obsession

Calvin.Baker.OneStoryToday’s recap of our summer workshop is brought to you by Tony Wei-Ling.Enjoy!-HT

The fourth day of One Story’s Workshop for Writers was a marathon. We started our day with double workshop sessions with Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, followed by a meditative craft lecture on obsession and finding the themes in our own writing from Author/One Story Assistant Editor/Workshop Coordinator, Ann Napolitano.

Earlier in the week, Ann had asked all of the students to take a picture with their cell phones. During class, she projected each of these photos on a screen, and had the students use them as stepping off points for writing exercises. Together the group discussed how these pictures could unearth themes in their writing, by revealing what each author was “obsessed” with. Ann shared how over time in her own writing (of both successful and unsuccessful novels) she’s learned to pay attention to her obsessions and use them to guide her work.

“Some things are societal obsessions,” she told us. “Things trending on Twitter or among your friends and family, or in the literary world. We feel like we have to keep up with all of those trendy books, movies, shows, and you can fill up your life doing that.”  But that won’t feed our writing, Ann said. In fact what we should do instead is pay attention to what keeps us personally obsessed, what draws our eye and our attention. “Notice the patterns,” she said. “Notice what you notice.”

After a break spent exploring the neighborhood’s parks and pie shops, our writers reconvened at Park Slope’s Community Bookstore, where One Story author Calvin Baker  read from his new novel, Grace, and spent time answering questions about his writing process. (Meanwhile, the bookstore’s cat, Tiny, prowled the cheese plate.)

Calvin emphasized the trust a writer needs to have in her senses, her instincts, and her inspirations, and remembered a moment of pure creative energy that sparked the idea for his first novel (Naming the New World) upon a hilltop in rural Kenya. He stressed the need to travel and explore the world, and the importance of finding your own voice on the page. Together with One Story’s Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti, Calvin also discussed influences on his work, from the Bible to ancient mythology and philosophy.

“As a young writer, I decided to make a personal canon for myself,” he said. “And I recommend that to all writers: make the canon your own.”

Hannah agreed, and encouraged everyone in the audience to curate their own personal canon, choosing the authors that they love and the books they need to inspire their writing. She  added that she creates a reference bookshelf for each project she works on. “I’ve seen Hannah’s bookshelves, and they go up to the ceiling,” Calvin laughed.

Stay tuned for a recap of the last day of our summer workshop, including our group dinner and student reading!

One Story Workshop Day 3: From 1st Draft to the Editor’s Inbox

One Story's Adina Talve-Goodman introduces One Story author Seth Fried

Adina introduces One Story author Seth Fried

The third day of One Story’s summer workshop for writers began with morning sessions of Will Allison’s and Patrick Ryan’s workshops. Halfway through the week, everyone seems to be benefiting from the intensive edits. “People want you to improve,” said one of Will’s students after her story was critiqued. “Nothing was missed. Everyone was super helpful!” Will gave credit to his dutiful students. “Everyone is reading very deeply,” he said.

In Patrick’s room, the two students being workshopped were talking animatedly after everyone else had gone to lunch. “I rewrote the first half of my story in my brain in the time between my workshop and yours,” one of the students said to the other, laughing. “It was like Tetris pieces coming together.” The other student agreed. “I want to go home right now and start redrafting,” she said.

After the writers ate lunch, they sat down for One Story author Seth Fried’s craft lecture, “Getting through the First Draft.” Seth is the author of One Story’s 124th issue, “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” and his speech focused on generating new writing material. He stressed the importance of writing even if you think that what you’re writing isn’t good. “The first draft is always shit,” Seth said, quoting Hemingway. He added that your “inner critic” is bad for generating work, and if you focus too much on what you’re writing, the content will end up being forced instead of fluid.

To get us all started, Seth assigned a writing exercise: write 200 words, right then, without thinking. The workshop participants said that the exercise was freeing, and that it was nice to write in longhand instead of typing. Seth also mentioned three great resources for generating fiction: John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, Ron Carlson’s Ron Carlson Writes a Story, and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.

Once the writers had their afternoon break, One Story’s Managing Editor, Adina Talve-Goodman, spoke with three other editors in our nightly panel. The editors were Julie Buntin, author of One Teen Story’s “Phenomenon” and Associate Editor of Catapult; Jonathan Lee, editor of A Public Space; and Lincoln Michel, Online Editor of Electric Literature and coeditor of Gigantic.

All four editors agreed that there was a certain thrill in publishing debut authors, and that mentioning that you’ve never been published doesn’t hurt your cover letter! They also stressed the importance of submitting your work to a magazine that fits. Don’t just send your story to whoever will take it—do some research and send your story to the magazines that will appreciate it the most. Lincoln said that the story was more meaningful if the author was attached to the magazine somehow, and Adina stressed the importance of not giving up. It’s all about getting the right story into the right hands.

We only have one more day of workshop before the final reading on Friday. Stay tuned for an event at Park Slope’s Community Bookstore with another One Story author, Calvin Baker, and Editor-in-Chief Hannah Tinti!

One Story Workshop Day Two: A Guiding Light for the Rewrite

soap-operaOur daily update from One Story’s Summer Workshop for Writers continues! Today’s episode is brought to you by intern Tony Wei-Ling. Enjoy! -HT

Soap operas are maybe the furthest thing from the literary short story we can think of –low-brow, long-form, and commercial. But today, after intensive morning workshops with editors Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, followed by a healthy lunch, our students sat down for a craft lecture with One Story Contributing Editor Karen Friedman to discuss how soap operas can relate to the editing process.

With clips from Dallas, Guiding Light, and General Hospital, Karen walked us through how to revise our opening pages, and what vital info needs to be dropped in the opening paragraphs.

“As writers, we sometimes do ‘throat-clearing’ while we’re figuring out how to get from the first line to the rest of the story,” Karen said. “But openings need to quickly establish the main characters, where they are situated, and what the emotional situation is. If you don’t do those things in the first two pages, you’re missing your best chance to get out of the slush pile.”

Using clips that covered amnesia, evil twins, and ‘it was all a dream!’ surprise endings, Karen showed us how to approach rewrites with a big-picture plan, so that “editing” doesn’t just mean fiddling with the details. Everyone’s favorite clip was by far “The Slut of Springfield”–from a famous 1980s episode of Guiding Light–that Karen used to show “movement” within a scene. Reva and Josh are the characters. Some background: Reva and Josh were in love, but Reva married Josh’s father. Josh was so mad he got into a car accident and is now in a wheelchair. This scene happens at the end of a party. Josh starts off berating Reva, but she turns the tables on him.

It’s no wonder that Kim Zimmer, the actress who played Reva, won an Emmy for this scene!

In the evening the drama continued, as we enjoyed cocktails and cupcakes and chatted with three talented literary agents. One Story Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti moderated the official panel, beginning with the question that we all wanted to know but were too nervous to ask: “What the hell is a literary agent?” Our guests – Sarah Burnes, Jim Rutman, and Samantha Shea – had different answers. Primarily working as the intermediary between writers and publishing houses, literary agents play many roles, from finding and editing manuscripts, deciding when a book is ready for submission, finding the right editor, ironing out contracts, putting out fires as the book hits the shelves and sometimes playing “bad cop” in negotiations. Sarah Burnes cited the importance of the gut check in picking new writers: “It comes down to this question: do I feel this thing?” And Jim Rutman explained that he often corresponds with writers for a long time before he finds the right project to work on together. “A rejection is not always a ‘no.’ It can also mean ‘not this book, but maybe the next’ if the agent is encouraging and asks to see more.” Regardless of all the industry talk of pitches, query letters, and market trends, all the agents agreed – the text itself is the most important. “The writer I pick is the one whose manuscript I can’t get out of my head,” said Samantha Shea.

Tomorrow, we’re meeting with a panel of editors and listening to a craft talk from One Story author Seth Fried. Stay tuned for more secrets from behind the editorial curtain!