Aspen Words Craft Publishing Panel

Aspen Words | Daily Summer Words Summary

Aspen Summer Words Craft Panels

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Mum’s the Aspen Word

It’s approaching 10 a.m. on the first day of Aspen Summer Words and current status is: crickets. I registered about a month ago for the craft panel series (y'all it's $30 for five 1.5 hour panel discussions) and other than an immediate confirmation email, I haven’t heard anything.


It's possible I've been so distracted by moose sightings that a hype email passed me by, or that I'm accustomed to overly-hyped events. It's also possible that my introvert-defense-mechanisms are are flaring up with thoughts of crowds, audience questions, passed microphones, and “important” literary people. It's also FOMO—let's check social.


Aspen Words Instagram: There's a reel of a ghost town (Smuggler's Mountain?) and a caption saying this is the calm before the storm. 


Note to self: Don't read into the ghost town metaphor and the parallels with your inbox. The event is still on! Great! Phew!

And with that confirmation, I am once more stoked to attend. I’ll be doing a daily report for y’all on what’s going down at Aspen Words this week.

To be fair, the email communication for the craft panels was more consistent after the first session. Thank goodness and “thank you” to the person who sends their emails (typically a thankless position, I know)—I would have missed the room changes and generally felt left out.

The State of the Publishing Industry | Monday

Monday June 19, 2023 | Aspen Words

Aspen Summer Words Publishing Panel

The first panel,  entitled “The State of the Publishing Industry,” is today, Monday afternoon, and as an aspiring author, I’ll be taking copious notes. Here’s who’s on the panel, with a paraphrased bio from Aspen Words:

  • Kirby Kim has worked for Charlotte Sheedy Literary, Vigliano Associates, WME, and Janklow & Nesbit. He represents both literary and commercial authors. 

  • Dana Murphy represents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction for both adult and teen readers. She joined Trellis Literary Management in 2022, after a decade building her list at The Book Group. 

  • Millicent Bennett, Executive Editor at HarperCollins, acquires primarily literary fiction, upmarket book club fiction, and voice-and character-driven narrative nonfiction, including memoir, with an emphasis on marginalized and underrepresented voices.

Monday Evening Update from Aspen Words: 
I studiously took notes during the first panel, but I’ve decided not to wallpaper this article with them, instead I’m going to cherry-pick the moments that I find most helpful and insightful—hopefully they’ll be of benefit to you too. And I’m going to ask you to pardon all structural chaos that unfolds below. I’m attempting to post this update within hours of the discussion—and it feels like sharing a photo of my tousled, unmade bed, the dirty laundry hamper, or that recurring nightmare of going to school in my pajamas.

A Typical Day in the Publishing Industry

First question from the moderator, “What is a typical day like?”

We have three full time jobs (with one salary), Bennett explained: 

  1. The 9-5 job is administrative stuff: jackets department, marketing, dealing with emails. That’s the work of the campaign, to publish the books… getting it out of the private world of writing it and getting it to pitch to book sellers. 

  2. Agent relationships where we are getting out, meeting new agents, hearing about their submissions, and as a fiction and narrative nonfiction editor, she gets 3-400 pages of manuscripts in each submission. She then must decide what she is passionate about, and what they need to pass on. What to read after kids go to bed. 

  3. Third full time job is actually sitting down with manuscript and checking word choice and structure and the things we typically think an editor is doing.

Also noteworthy, Kim and Murphy agreed they were tugged many directions in their roles, and crushingly, for a prospective manuscript submitter, both Kim and Bennett mentioned their only time to read new work is after their kids go to bed. You know what I have the energy to do after my four-year-old  daughter finally falls asleep? Eat a sleeve of cookies and call it good.

Aspen Words Publishing Panel
Left to right: Moderator Amy, Millicent Bennett, Kirby Kim, and Dana Murphy

Post-Covid Publishing Industry

When asked “Where are we now, in the publishing industry, post-covid?” the panelists explained the boon in book sales during covid has leveled out, but there is "a new relationship to labor,” as Murphy put it. The culture of the industry is more collaborative and less competitive. They also agreed that the diversity of content changed.


“One of the fabulous things that happened during covid, is this intensive consciousness and turn to hear the marginalized voices, and to hear the stories that had not been told,” Bennett explained. “We were finally able to make a difference during that time. That was a huge step forward to the industry.”

Kim and Murphy agreed and I gotta say, I’m loving the new voices, like Sarah Thankam Mathews. My MIL gave me her novel, This Could All Be Different, for the holidays this year. Mathews' voice is distinctive, fresh, and shifted my perspective about immigrant, lesbian, young and striving characters. And I just read in her bio that Mathews was nominated for the Aspen Literary Prize. Synchronicity!

Question: What makes you pay attention to a pitch?

Murphy: When I see that the author is able to write about the thing you they are writing. What that looks like in action is a query letter or jacket copy that is thoughtfully written… I’m looking for an air of professionalism without being formal and a level of thinking about the work and what it will be in the next step, as part of a market, the pitch being a sales tool.

Kim: I look for efficiency and what about it is distinct but also play with the conversation within. It gives me two key aspects: setting up central characters in a compelling way, and giving me just enough about the story that sets up the stakes and raising a compelling question by the end of it. The biggest mistake in a pitch is plot summary. Describe the novel up to page 5 and that’s enough…The whole purpose of the query is to get me to page one.

Murphy: It’s a bit ineffable as to why I respond to one query and then I don’t another. I respond to what I describe as a level of confidence in the voice and I’m a real bitch for a first line…I know immediately when someone has workshopped their work, versus someone that is anxious to get to the next step.

Kim: It’s the first line, first paragraph, first page, then first hundred. I’m looking at how you on-ramp. First I’m looking at craft, how your sentences are put together. I can read the first page and see whether it’s there. And then character, you can go with them for a while, then the engine of the plot takes over. Then I’ll go and ask for that much more. Goes in stages for me, and it’s very subjective.

Bennett: I’m just sitting here thinking how much more work you guys do… for me, from where I’m sitting it’s just does this book suck me in or not?

I was quite relieved to hear that both the agents had recently selected books from “the slush pile,” as Kim called it, the general queries email addresses. There’s hope for the nobodies!

4 Insights from Millicent Bennett

I’m going to break form for a moment to serve up helpful quotes from HarperCollin's Millicent Bennett:

  • Why the publishing industry feels shrouded in mystery: “We don’t have the benefit of massive marketing money to have focus groups about what readers want. So much of how the industry works, is what's in our heads, and every book is different. There is no repeatable factory line, other than maybe a James Patterson. We are reinventing the system every time."

  • Comps are critical: “We need a language, a way to communicate to the next steps of the audience, what the audience looks like for this book. You need to convince book sellers to stock, and the way you do that is to fit this book into that slot on their budget. Book comps are the only thing that isn’t subjective. Groan as much as you need to if someone asks, “What are your comps?” but that is the language we need to pitch it.”

  • On publishing a book for its movie potential: “There’s nothing better than a movie to sell a book, money rains from heaven, but you cannot count on that. Otherwise, you’re making bad business decisions.”

  • On the impact of banned books: “I have never heard in all my years in publishing, in all the places I’ve worked, anyone say, “This is controversial and may get banned.” If anything, it inspires us to keep the conversations happening and normalize these controversial subjects.

Final Advice from Aspen Words Publishing Panel

I'm a sucker for these optimistic, eloquent final thoughts from the Aspen Words publishing industry panelists.

Bennett: The passion you feel in your book, writing those words is what translates immediately, its in the DNA of the page, it translates to us. I can tell when an author is going through the motions, versus writing about something you care about deeply. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s the energy, the love of the arc—so keep that in mind.

Kim: Usually I try to divorce this process from time. The most powerful position you are in is your debut book. So if you’re going through this process, take the time to work on your craft, a story that works in the market, and come out with something big, no matter what age you’re at, and don’t be in a rush.

Murphy: The more you can exercise the anxiety of high school from your brain while you are trying to be an artist, the better. Being an artist is a vulnerable, time intensive process. We do it because we have to: There are voices in your head and you don’t want to them to stay there. It’s easy to think, I’m behind! And I’m publishing, but I'm not getting what I want, but at the end of the day the only publication you know every detail about is your own. The person you are comparing to, they may look like an overnight success and yet you have no f’ing clue.

Best advice: do the work because you have to do the work and give it your all and try really hard and trust the people you’re working with (or leave and go to other people), but the comparative game is only going to hurt you. There is no instance where it will help you. Every query I open, I hope it’s an author I get to work with for a long time. I open every query with optimism. Our success is based on your success so we’re all in it together.

Elements of a Great Beginning | Wednesday

Great Beginnings  

Authors Katie Kitamura and Josh Mohr were moderator-free Wednesday afternoon and effortlessly posed questions to each other. They spoke on the topic of Great Beginnings, and both its implications: the opening pages of a book, and the beginning of a book-writing process.

A disclaimer: I’m posting to the blog with an accelerated turnaround time than I'm used to.

Aspen Summer Words Genres
Pick your poison

Planning Styles for Beginning a Book-Length Story

Kitamura says she plans ahead because it can take 2-3 years for her to complete a novel. Oh thank God, I’d re-read Stephen King’s “On Writing,” and his sprinter’s pace terrifies me. Her husband is also a novelist and does detailed planning of every scene, but she prefers a back of the envelop-style outline. Just a chapter and what will happen. She says the outline is purely psychological; it’s just used so she’s not lost while writing.


Mohr, on the other hand, sounds like a complete pantster. “I like the wanton feeling of not knowing. I allow myself to jump down every rabbit hold I can find.” However, he says he cannot start writing without an opening image in his mind.

A Journey of Many Drafts

Mohr exhilarated me with the descriptions of his process. For a man with physical heart impairments, he really has an open-hearted, lover of life, manner about him. “I don’t champion quality in draft one,” he says. “Take some pressure off yourself and let draft one be bad.” What a relief. At one point, he gestured to the mountain views outside the conference tent and asked the audience, did you know this is supposed to be fun?” And added how lucky we are to be living in this country where writing a novel is possible.

Kitamura corroborated Mohr’s story, “The reward is not in publishing a book. It’s in the making of the book.” She says writing the first draft is the most fun she ever has. It’s where she is playing and the stakes are very low. That draft is just for her. She contrasts the first draft approach with the subsequent drafts. “When you’re editing, it's a process where you turn from the writer of your work to the reader of your work.”

Mohr, with his no-holds-barred style, asks himself, “What’s the boldest, ugliest author draft I can write?” He explains that he needs those 1200 pages to get the 300 that he calls “the greatest hits,” that will become the book and most excite the audience.”


I feel a knot in my back loosening, and I’ll probably revisit this quote again tonight so I can fall asleep with less worry about my nascent novel draft.

Katie Kitamura (left) and Joshua Mohr (right) at Aspen Words
Katie Kitamura (left) and Joshua Mohr (right) at Aspen Summer Words
Katie Kitamura (left) and Joshua Mohr (right)

Joshua Mohr’s 3 C’s for Book Draft 1 and 2:

“Am I making the audience curious, care and concerned?”


Concerned is the most important question of those, Mohr says. To keep this question top of mind, he inserts the question, “What have I given my audience to worry about on this page?” in the footer of every page. Later in the discussion, Mohr revisited the importance of the 3 C’s and said, “Ultimately, we want to make somebody, that we’ll never meet in real life, have an organic experience from symbols on the page.” It’s true. And getting the reader to feel is a nice transition into how our characters feel.


Joshua Mohr on Complex Characters

Mohr might as well have been a wildlife veterinarian and me one of those open mouthed, baby-birds extending their necks for more mashed worms—I was eating up his advice. 


When thinking about characters, he asks this beautiful question, “How can I imbue my character with the dignity of complexity?” He does this by evaluating the character from angles, eliciting different reactions. The more emotional stations we can interact with, the more complex the character will be. When you have a kinetic scene, he encourages us to ask, what is the scene’s impact on the human heart? How is that character moved?


Book Beginnings Teach a Reader How to Read Your Work

Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid's Tale," among other works, was at this thing called the Book Ball at a fancy establishment called The Hotel Jerome in Aspen on Tuesday Night. Not to worry, I didn’t have a ticket; however, Mohr mentioned he liked what Atwood said at the Book Ball about endings: The ending of a book is an unexpected inevitable.

Beginnings, as I am learning, have another important function other than hooking an audience. Both Mohr and Kitamura mentioned how the first chapter or so is where the author teaches an audience how to interact with your book. They mentioned that the author uses the first 25 page like a contract: it sets the terms, the rules of the game, the ambitions of the character, the world they live in, what is the dramatic state.


Whelp, that’s a tall order, and I I hadn’t looked at that function of beginnings straight-on before. I’m sure my subconscious will be mulling it over on my hike today.


The importance of voice


Here’s a moment Katie Kitamura shined in my mind: She says that as a reader, voice is more imporant than anything, and will beat out any technical feats. “I love to read a book that can only be written by that writer. The tension is in the relationship the writer has with language.” It made me think of my friend and fellow aspiring writer, Anastasia Lugo Mendez. Girl got a way about her writing voice.

Kitamura cited author Eva Baltasar as an example of a strong voice, specifically in “Boulder” and “Permafrost” so I’ll be adding those to my reading list.

Aspen Words Quotes
A sticker box I came across in the lobby at Aspen Words

On The Process of Writing a Book


An audience member asked what to do when a scene you loved follows the life span of sugar-bubble gum: you loved it at first but after so many edits, it’s a tasteless lump.

Mohr advised that we avoid being a “spite revisor.” He explains that’s where the writer sits next to a stack of notes and spite-change things—that leads to the sugar bubblegum phenomenon. But, he cautions us not to be unreachable either. “I try to take my ego out of it and explore the ideas that don’t resonate, initially.”

Kitamura empathized with the audience member, “I think all my openings are the product of spite revision. I never read from them.” However, she saw the merit in the editor notes, which lead her to her new openings. She trusted the people she worked with.

Closing Thought on Beginnings of a Book

I'm going to close this section with a note from Mohr that resonated with me. I feel like right now, 90% of writing the novel is mental—not in the fun, let's play make believe kinda way.

“Morale is really important,” Mohr says. He has seen talented grad students stop writing altogether. Keep it fun. Find a process that works for you. “Do you know what you can do on a daily basis to be excited to get to work the next day? If you don’t know, stay on the discovery of that.”

Structure: How to Keep The Momentum | Wednesday

AKA "The Saggy Middle" of a Story | Aspen Words

 at Aspen Words
Aspen Summer Words
Katie Kitamura (left) and Joshua Mohr (right)

Author Advice for The Saggy Middle of a Story

Luis Alberto Urrea, Ashley C. Ford, Emily Raboteau offered these comments about how to structure the middle of a story. 


Urrea: I know the beginning and the end, so the whole thing in the middle is the middle. The hummingbird’s daughter was my great aunt’s story and that in that process I was as a fake historian. Made a timeline of her life.


Urrea called writing the middle, knitting the magic carpet. “I just had to follow that line," he said.


Ford: The way I write is that sculptor metaphor. Somebody puts a lump in front of you and you have to carve something out of it. The only indication I have of the middle is realizing how much [distance there is] from where you are  to the end. The problem with that is I'm usually wrong about what the end is going to be. Finding the middle is a constant thing in the way that the beginning and the middle is not.


Urrea: I sometimes think about film and screenplay. Act two in film or screenplay, precipitated by a disruption to the status quo or how they are trying to achieve their goal, so they are forced into a plan B. That’s often how a movie begins. There needs to be a disruption.


Raboteau likens the middle of the story to Remy Chalip's children’s book entitled, "Fortunately." The idea is that this structure of “Fortunately” is the same as the structure of the middle passage of a book.


The Middle of a Story: Follow "Fortunately" by Remy Charlip

Urrea: Once one can get going, all the sudden I’m on a rampage. It’s only in editing later that I wonder, where am I going?

Raboteau: It’s wise to keep in mind, something must shift, tonal and dramatic. Probably subtract to the middle and take from the end. Start as close to the end as possible.

Ford: Romance is great at middles! Romance novelists, they kill the middle part of the game. You have to stay interested and they must give you everything you need to do that. 
It is fortunately and unfortunately over and over again. It is frustration. You are like, just say it! Just do it! Only in a romance novel have I ever raised my hands in, “Touchdown!” or, “Praise Jesus!”


Urrea: Every writer has that problem, how do we get through the middle section, the Sahara.


Raboteau: Even when not telling a story chronologically, you still have to worry about your reader getting bored. Regardless of whether or not they are, this problem remains, which is how do I keep this story feeling like it's rollicking along and keep the reader interested?


How to Create Unforgettable Endings | Thursday

Alaya Dawn Johnson and Michelle Wildgen’s conversation on “How to create unforgettable endings” had several helpful moments for the emerging writings at Aspen Summer Words. 


Snippets from the discussion:


Michelle Wildgen started by explaining that she knows the end—the end she is aiming for—before she starts. “I have a thing I’m aiming for, perceived as one way, but is actually another way. I have the impression or feeling I want to read the leader with. I keep that in the back of my head.I want to make sure all of the individual elements [of a story] are aiming for that conclusion.”


Wildgen: What is the arc from start to finish? You’d be surprised about how many writers don’t know. Are we headed for triumph or tragedy? Has someone squandered?I write on literary fiction. I pay attention to character nuances; from character comes plot. A lot of times when writing a first draft and no matter how bad, something happens in my brain when I put all those things in place.


Alaya Dawn Johnson says she is a “plantser” when it comes to her writing approach, she is in between pantster and a planner. She considers the first draft an outline. And considers how she needs to change it. How am I really structuring the character’s development and is it different enough? Is it motivated enough? Johnson says her fifth revision is the good ending.

Johnson notes the “good” ending is a shift of perspective, the action did not change. “It was the shift of how the main character was interacting with that ending that made it work. It feels really natural. It’s not obvious what aspect of the character for the theme and plot elements to coalesce.


Wildgen: You don’t want to have too simple an ending and answer too simple of a question. I would rather find a weird complexity to shake it up a bit. Don’t focus on binary questions. Instead, what is gained by the ending? What will the reader gain by not having a clear ending?


Common Mistakes of Story Endings


Wildgen: Two-pat ending. A little good with the bad. Sour with sweet. Falls flat because there is  no change of register. Think about white space. You have to start working your reader into thinking you are coming to an end. The pace can change. The tone in which you are looking at something. None matters if not meaningful info. Sometimes sentences spool out that let the reader know we are going somewhere bigger.


Johnson: I love that, about signaling the ending. Signals…you as reader pause and approach the emotional states a little more. Openness of signaling.


More Common Mistakes of Story Endings:


Johnson: Leaving threads loose that should not be. Don’t introduce themes and character. Making sure the emotional stakes have been adequately addressed and changed in some way and some ways how the character sees themself. You see something different in their refusal to engage in reality.

Ending it early: cutting it off. Why there? What’s happening? Feels like you haven’t thought through the characterization and they just kind of walk offscreen. It isn’t earned yet.


Wildgen: When it ends too soon…I ask the writer to go longer than they need to. You can answer the plot but it doesn’t feel like the larger question was answered.


Johnson: Octavia Butler: Start with trauma and you backtrack. It’s a hard technique to start at the beginning and then go back…you know what, but you don’t know how, which is as important as why.

Mystery plotting: how classic traditional mysteries are constructed. A backwards timeline. Encounters A story: the detective The b story: the person who did it, they work at different times.

Guy Gavriel Kay. Seeding from the beginning the importance of things, but you subconsciously absorb it.

Start at a dramatic point, go to the front, and go past it. The point you select to begin must be exciting but emotionally resonate.


Wildgen: Genres and romance: easy to see when an author is doing something. Makes it really clear. You can write down how much time and how much space takes place.

Put stuff in story to pay off later: writing out my A plot and my B plot with as many beats as possible. And how it’s interacting with the characters. Use red herrings when they really work and have an internal logic. Much less satisfying for an external force, than for their own character’s motivation.


Johnson: I’m trying to always anchor and go back. Otherwise, B plot feels vague.

Have a clear account of what is the truth.

So satisfying when its already in the mix. It’s been there all along. It’s revealed or we learn something.

Aspen Words Takeaway Panel | Thursday

Claire Dederer, Major Jackson, Tom Perrotta, Erin Entrada Kelly, Victoria Redel, and Mitzi Ratcon at Aspen Words
Left to right: Claire Dederer, Major Jackson, Tom Perrotta, Erin Entrada Kelly, Victoria Redel at Aspen Words
Tom Perrotta Aspen Words
Victoria Redel Aspen Words
Major Jackson poet Aspen Words

Moderator Mitzy Ratcon began with a prompt on the topic of sustainability: How do we keep up the energy writers have felt this week?


Kelly: Have a writing group. Feed the creative spirit in many ways, all the time. Read a book, pay attention to a show. Dance in your room. Car concert. One of the reasons we get burnt out is because we’re focused on this book.


Redel: I feel like the world asks a million things of me, and so for me, waiting until the right time to write, the time that nothing else needs me, there is no time. So I map out what my life looks like in an early way, when to go to the grocery story, when dance around the house. It’s a fixed time. Show up and I get a paragraph, a page. For me, it’s setting the time and trying to honestly keep to it.


Dederer: For so long, I thought I was supposed to have a daily schedule and a ritual around it. I like to change the schedule every day, but I do have to set it up. The most crucial [setup is], the person I am before I open the document and the person I am after.


Jackson: The Slow Down podcast—subscribe. Having a 9-5 job of which I wrote before work. I wrote after work. I was working for corporate office, because I had to go home to cook and fiddle with the poem, and then go have a beer at the pool table. Sustainability and creating those boundaries is a co-active part of your creative life. If you don’t take yourself seriously, then no one else will. For those of us who have shaped our lives as writers it means taking that jump over again and again. They had to create signs on their door “Writer in residence.” It’s profound to have people acknowledge you.


Perrotta: We have to show up and to get a little bit done. Not to punish yourself. J Conrad used to shackle himself to the desk. I thought that can’t be worth it. Days when I’m making myself miserable, I will get outside. I will go out on a bike and ride. It’s often a continuation of my work day.


Kelly: I like to play, This Counts as Writing. If I’m reading a great book, and noticing the characters, that counts as writing.


Redel: Claire’s touching the page. My promise was to touch the page every day.


Jackson: It just occurred to me the writers who have support. I hope all of us have someone for whom we can call for support.


Radicalize care in your home. Make sure other people can help you.


And if you have to write in a spreadsheet at your day job, and your spreadsheet is open, that counts.


Kelly: I write for children so I have to be accessing that mindset because children are so open and full of imagination.


Dederer: One of the ways I think about play: creating a dynamic where I’m consuming art and setting a parameter around social in relationship to that. It’s secret that’s for me. Creating that protective garden for my own response to art.


Perrotta: Everybody needs to figure out, on your own, what is a source of energy? A biography is this for him, food for him. No matter what chaos in their life, but somehow the work got done. Music does it for some people.


Jackson: My grandparents raised me. To engage in the world is to be stimulated by it. I’m trying to construct a grad class where we are in the world around us. Writing is taking in and helping to structure some of the messages we receive.


Redel: Going out into the world is engaging to me. I get to eavesdrop and the world is a gift giver. For me being outdoors in nature, equally stimulating. That feeling of stuck and then I get out and grocery shopping, and in the peanut butter aisle [it hits]. That’s what I needed too.


Jackson: I was thinking about something practical, whenever I reach the end of a project, I turn manuscripts in little chapbooks and give them as gifts, but mainly i keep them around the house. I want to recreate that natural encounter [with the work]. Kitchen copy. Living room copy. You almost alway encounter issues, and that’s what helps me have a different relationship [with the work]. 


Redel: Each draft I dread, but then I think of all the things I could do, and each has a new aspect of wonder.


Tom Perrotta says he started as a short story writer. He felt he had 10 ideas bubbling around, which is OK for short stories. But a novel is a commitment. It’s not a decision that I’d make cavalierly. It’s been sticking with me for a while. Now I know there is a point where I will doubt myself. I made a vow to keep faith with the version of me that said, I can do this.

Even though I'm doubting this material now, I believed in it, but now I believe in it too.


Kelly: Another way to stay inspired is to write different things. Just because it's not going in your manuscript.


Dederer: I see my work being grounded politically and culturally, did you ever have a thought that was not bound up in history. Write a book in five years. You are going to change in that period. For me, there was a lot of political growth.  Made a book that was mature in a way it would not have been five years ago. Keep letting the world flow into the work.  Chasing the horizon paradox?


Jackson: The bridge is those little victories. Doesn’t have to be publishing, can be someone that I admire that acknowledges. Background as an accountant.


Perrotta: We need to think about what rejections look like. One day I got one and it said, you  weren’t selected but you were a finalist for the issue. Because that for me wasn’t a rejection. We need to rethink things to celebrate. And also cultivate irrational self esteem. I remember long before I did everything good, I was certain I was good, because it gets you through some rough times. I


Jackson: I’m a slow thinker, things have to marinate and the subconscious is doing that work of resolving plot, collecting images, which is why its import not to sit at desk all day.


Dederer: Artists who are bad men…obsession…is that inflated ego,,, isn’t that part of being an artists, that “I’m great!” Artists make things, but it takes a bit of steel to finish something. How do you become a finisher of something rather than a starter? Is it the delusional self confidence or the commitment that is unbreakable?


Redel: It is important for women to practice Tom’s delusional self-confidence. Put it first, that home and work constellation. I invite all the men to practice too. I was noting how hard it was for the women to claim that space.


Kelly: If you do have this sense of I’m incredibly talented. I took up rollerblading and had to burn off this cognitive dissonance. You can have a lot of success but the minute I read something or get a bad review, that thing is still there an it still hurts a lot. That’s a big part of writing. How do I keep going in the face of what will inevitably be not this one.


Jackson: We live in a culture of rejection and no matter the level, journal editors, state arts grant, it’s just part of the landscape we operate in, so those little wins act as a bridge. It’s an armor, a spiritual armor. If your aim isn’t ego, but rather to be self reflective of the world around you, that’s where the juice is for me. I don’t look at rejections as mountains I have to overcome. It’s this is what’s feeding me.


Dederer: I’m interested in this idea of outsourcing it. You can have that reader do that work for you when you can’t keep your head up and keep going. She has a place that’s rooting for her when she’s not able to keep going.


Redel: one of the beautiful things about something like this, you hopefully find, a writerly relationship with them. They see the growth of your work. A friend, a writing group. Whomever you connect with.



Redel: Editors will often find a place in the work that is not working, now i think to myself, they’re intuitively right, and their solution may not be what i need to find but I trust that there are weaknesses there.


Perrotta: That’s how I know a book is working, if it’s waking me up at 4am. I’ve become obsessed with these sentences that seem to unlock the next thing. That’s where I can go wrong in the middle of the day and if I’m lucky that’s what my subconscious will produce and I have to get the exact words to unlock it.


Kelly: when I’m drafting, I purposely don’t pick up anything similar to what I’m working on. I also want to be in a separate mind space with my reading life.


Dederer: I write a lot in hybrid and I'm often looking for a model. And I’ll reread that essay over and over for years to get that sound I am trying to put together. I do read new books, but I’m very organic and intuitive in my writing, but I am intentional about reading older work.


Jackson: I voraciously seek out people who have used this shape. Certain forms have certain shapes. A form can contain a voice. I want to read those so i can hear that individual. At one point I was just reading quatrains. Summer People, James Merle. You can hear the class, high class in his work.


One last phrase of advice for emerging writers?


Kelly: It’s ok if you don’t write every day.


Jackson: Turn off social media.


Perrotta: No coffee after noon.


Redel: Observe something new.


Dederer: Open the document every day.

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