Last fall in my fiction class we looked over the rules of several famous and successful writers in this Guardian article and came up with our own list of rules. Mine is below:
- Write for one hour a day. Minimum.
- Try not to make the story predictable. Surprise yourself.
- Create an ending where people say WTF!
- Write about something you know nothing.
- Read the books friends suggest. Don’t just say you will.
- Embody the dialogue. Make it authentic. Make it zip.
- Write things that are beyond your reach.
- Fail as a writer.
- Accept this and rewrite the goddamn thing.
- Value your classmates and your teacher.
Overall, I stuck to these rules quite rigorously and was able to write some strange and powerful fiction–different from my usual fare. During the semester we were not able to tell anybody our rules or mention that we had a covenant with the rest of the class. This, in hindsight, added a layers of secrecy and mystery to the proceedings, and, in some way, drew the class closer together.
So, now, I’m asking: what are your ten rules?
Since I read this New Yorker essay I’ve wanted to write a post on the subject of posterity. In the literary world fame, of course, is fleeting, and quality is no guarantee of longevity. So many unknown factors manipulate someone’s place in the canon, or even just being in print. For me, a lover of short stories, here are my best guesses. They are all contemporary–and living–short story writers:
1. Alice Munro.
2. Stephen King.
3. Junot Diaz.
4. Joyce Carol Oates.
5. Steve Almond.
6. George Saunders.
7. Tobias Wolff.
8. Jhumpa Lahiri.
9. Nathan Englander.
10. Edith Pearlman.
Who do you think should be added? Add your comment below.
This piece is cross-posted over at The Minnesota Review blog.
Near the conference hotel, a lakefront Hilton, in a line for coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts, a young woman stares at my nametag. For what seems like a minute, her eyes are fixated on my name. She thinks: Is he a writer? Somebody I should know? Or want to know? Can he get my story/poem/manifesto published? Can he get me a six-figure book deal? Or point me to someone who is able? I blush and tuck my nametag under my shirt. Sure, I’ve had a few things published in my time, but I’m still a bottom feeder, lowest on the rung: the plaid-wearing M.F.A. student.
The hotel bar is where AWP veterans, publishing bigwigs, established poets and writers congregate on the padded leather couches. These people have made it. You can tell by the absence of a nametag. They’ve been put away. Buried in their tote bag underneath a free pile of swag. Together—in a swirling mass of ten-dollar Budweiser, warm Chardonnay, and half-hidden hip flasks—the “made-its” laugh and hug, tell stories and gossip: Is that Tao Lin in the corner? What hair product does Michael Martone use? What do you mean Poet X won the Ruth Lily?! Don’t you owe me a beer from D.C.?
I vandalize my nametag. At the McSweeney’s booth, using a No. 2 pencil, I write “Tony Morrison” above my name. I tell people: I’m the other Toni Morrison. The one with a Y; the one who didn’t attend Cornell; the one who didn’t write Beloved; the one who didn’t win the Nobel Prize; the one who didn’t teach at Princeton; the one who didn’t get paid less than Snooki; the one who didn’t avoid this conference like the plague. I’m him. Tony. You know, the one stared at by a woman in Dunkin’ Donuts; the one picking up free literary journals; the one talking to hungover editors; the one attending panels; the one hoping for insights into the machinations of the publishing world; the one flailing in the hotel bar; the one trying to marry Sandra Beasley; the one plagued by a Y. A question he’s desperately attempting to answer.
“Cooler than cool, the pinnacle of what is ‘it’.” — Urban Dictionary
The realm of literary journals that may be termed “hip” was recently brought to my attention by George Bowering. George, who I presume is the one noted here, wrote about my list of best journals (see post here) were “square.” I agree that many of the journals I noted are not known for experimental, challenging, ground-breaking, or avante-garde literature, but, in fact, focus on traditional forms of storytelling.
Here, then, are a few hip journals (the last two, perhaps, for the Beat crowd). Feel free to add others in the comments section.