Advice from Masters of the Short Story ‹ Literary Hub


Tobias Wolff:Writing, for me, is a continual process of negotiation with what Ive written before. I think it is for a lot of writers.

There are just so many stories that are snowflake perfect. Theyre perfect. Youre always after that with what youre writing. Im sure its no less true for novels, but theres something about the size and manageability of the short story. You can walk around it, sculpt it here and there, lean back, see it whole. Perfection is something youre always after. But as you change over time, so does your notion of perfection.

The matter you have to decide for yourself is: Is this as good as I can make it, as I am now? You dont know all your deficits. You dont know your blind spots. You just have to hold yourself to the best standard that youre capable of. If you can answer that question for yourselfsay, This is as good as I can make itthen youre done with it.

Onstage interview at The Story Prize event March 4, 2009


Anthony Doerr:One of the many strengths of short story collections is that they can potentially range more widely than a novel, maybe encompass a greater variety of human experience. If you think of a writers interest as a courtyard, you can make a lot more windows onto that courtyard in a story collection.

I dont see my own life as necessarily all that interesting. Im not mining or cannibalizing my own direct experience to write stories. Im sure those of you who are writers have all heard this advice: Write what you know. Fundamentally that is good advice. Youre writing about heartbreak or feeling lost or feeling scared or feeling anxiousthese things that you have gone through. But that doesnt mean necessarily that if you are a violinmaker for sixty years, you should only write stories about violinmakers. You should assume that there are en

ough commonalities in human experience that you can write about a Finnish washerwoman in 1512.

Onstage interview at The Story Prize event March 2, 2011

The world is so fundamentally interesting and it makes me fall in love with it a dozen times a day. Part of my goal as a writer is to say to a reader: Look at this life were living, look how enormous the scales of time are, look how incredibly old and marvelous this situation is weve lucked into.

From a post on TSP: The Story Prize blog July 26, 2010


George Saunders:If you feel that theres a comic riff thats based on cruelty, if you say No, but Im compassionate, I wont do that, youve lamed yourself in a certain way. So the way I think of it is its not compassion but just: Have you spent sufficient time with the character to not be missing anything that he might have to offer? If you say: Jim was an asshole. All right, thats not great. Well, lets be more specific. When was Jim an asshole? On Wednesday, Jim was an asshole. Where? On Wednesday, Jim was an asshole at the coffee shop. How? Jim was an asshole when he was rude to the barista. How? He insulted her because she was slow. Why did he do that? She reminded him of his dead wife. Boom! Suddenly, hes not an asshole. Hes a sweetheart. But you didnt get there by saying, Lets be kind to Jim.

My whole trajectory in writing has been to learn that Im better off when I dont know anything about whats going to happen. I dont want to have any real hopes for the story except that it wont be dull.

Onstage interview at The Story Prize event March 5, 2014


Elizabeth McCracken:I honestly dont know how conscious anything I do is. It all seems like a blunder, and, when it comes out right, Im delighted.

I cant say that I have any religious belief, but to the extent to which I believe there is redemption in the world of sadness, it is through black humor. In the worst moments of my life, there is always a joke to be made, and thats a deep comfort to me. Its not putting off feelings; its part of sad things.

Onstage interview at The Story Prize event March 4, 2015


Elizabeth Strout:The people in this book were very real for me. They have to be for me to continue to write them. Otherwise, if theyre not, then they just get tossed on the floorliterally. But these people were very, very real to me. I didnt write the stories in order because I dont write anything in order. I dont even write a story from beginning to end.

If I could take whatever was most pressing in my own chest and just put that emotioncompletely transpose it but use that emotion in a scenethe scene would probably last or have a better chance of lasting than if I was just trying to write the beginning of a story. Thats when I learned to write in scenes that would, hopefully, have a heartbeat to them.

Onstage interview at The Story Prize event February 28, 2018



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