One Story Workshop Day One: Writers need failure & a doula

DSC00250 (640x480)It’s that time again, writers and readers!  One Story’s fourth annual summer workshop has begun.  Twenty talented writers have come to New York City’s Center for Fiction to workshop stories, listen to craft lectures and learn from diverse panels.  The week began with our students breaking into two morning workshops with our fearless  returning teachers, Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino.

After lunch we sat down for an intimate craft lecture with Jenny Offill.  The theme of the lecture was failure.  Jenny went around the room and asked everyone what was the most discouraging comment they had received about being a writer.  Comments ranged from: “You would have made such a good doctor” to “Really? Have I read anything you’ve written?”  Although we started off doom and gloom, throughout her lecture, Jenny really encouraged embracing the notion of an “un-successful” life, so long as it remains writing-focused.  At the end of the lecture, Jenny shared some of her important life hacks for being a writer in New York.

Highlights included:

  • where to find free cheese and wine
  • a list of movies about people with interesting lives
  • a list of jobs that give you time to write (but will not make you rich or encourage your parents in any way)

She ended by giving her secret to success as a writer.  “Let everyone give up on you.”  That moment of pity when no one, not even your loved ones, believes that you can finish the book can be a catalyst.  Sometimes pity is the biggest spur.

In the afternoon, our students stretched their hands and minds with writing exercises, hosted by One Story Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti. Together they wrote beautifully about memory and remembering, and shared their work out loud in an impromptu performance, before heading into midtown for dinner.

The evening session was a panel on the usually un-definable job of literary agents.  On our panel was Renee Zuckerbrot, Julie Barer, Jim Rutman and Rebecca Gradinger, and it was moderated by our own Hannah Tinti.  When asked what an agent’s actual job was, we heard comparisons to doulas, cheerleaders and characters from Jerry Maguire.  Each of the panelists agreed that the agent’s job is to be the writer’s biggest advocate in the literary world.  That being said, agents are looking for great books that they fall in love with.  They are in a unique position, between writer and publisher, to follow their gut and tackle stories that resonate with them.

The most important lesson of the night was finding the right agent to be your partner.  Multiple agents may find a connection and believe in your work, but it is important that a writer takes the time to choose an agent.  Discuss your  own short-term versus long-term writing goals with a potential agent, as well as their plans for your work.  It is important to be on the same page from the beginning, as your relationship with this person will be one of, if not the, most important connections in your writing life.

Day one ended with wine, cheese and mingling. It was a fast-paced day full of information, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Stay tuned!

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