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Writerly Roundup — June 2016

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.

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Photo by Jena Schwartz

Writing and the Permission to Succeed: The Intersection of Art and Shame, Elissa Altman (@ElissaAltman), On Being

Inspired by a Toni Morrison interview, Altman explores the writer's tendency to look outside for the permission to succeed. She describes the singular role of shame in withholding this permission:

When other forces say, no, that story is not yours, they have not only killed it and its place in your soul; they have killed you.

Her antidote?

Quiet the noise around you; soften its pitch. Our deepest stories are our best teachers. Let the weapons of the weak — the poison, the nagging, the gossip — burn themselves to ash. Cast them to the wind. Take back the permission to succeed. Make it yours.

On Betrayal, Dani Shapiro (@danijshapiro)

Pair the above with the latest Dani Shapiro blog post; they almost feel like they are speaking to each other. Shapiro addresses the controversial question of how to handle the inevitable impact of one's writing on family, friends, and others. She weighs the view held by some that it is essential in the name of the art not to care. But she equivocates: "There's a responsibility...to others, as well as to the art." It's complicated. There is no clear answer. But, she concedes, in the first draft, the one no one else will read, anything goes. Then, with careful reflection and revision, we should fine tune the truth we will release to the world.

To write is to attempt to tell a truth. Not the truth. Not another person's truth. But a truth. And in order to tell it, first we must find it. All we know, all we have, is our own experience, our own consciousness, memory, and imagination. These are our tools. And so with deliberation and consciousness and care, we wield them.

"Good Bones" Poet Maggie Smith on Watching Her Poem Go Viral in the Wake of the Orlando Shooting, Katy Waldman (@xwaldie), Slate

If you ever needed proof of the power of words, or a reason to keep writing, last week brought news of a powerful little poem going viral. Maggie Smith's petite, prescient masterpiece, "Good Bones", was shared tens of thousands of times all over the world in the days after it was first published in Waxwing Magazine. The poem perfectly captures the shared predicament of how we sell our children, and ourselves, on the troubling world we live in. Or, as Megan Olds (@MeganGTBay) beautifully tweeted, it is "a poem for everyone who lives with fear and still has faith and hope in the world." You can read more coverage of its stunning impact here and here, and be sure, of course, not to miss the poem itself.

What Makes Bad Writing Bad?Toby Litt (@tobylitt), The Guardian

In this concise, sobering piece, Litt offers his take on what makes 'bad writing.' To believe you have nothing left to learn is a death knell. So too seeking to rewrite a book that was already written, writing to advance a certain cause or social movement, or being too close to the material.

To go from being a competent writer to being a great writer, I think you have to risk being – or risk being seen as – a bad writer. Competence is deadly because it prevents the writer risking the humiliation that they will need to risk before they pass beyond competence. To write competently is to do a few magic tricks for friends and family; to write well is to run away to join the circus.

The Writer's IndexJulie Vick (@vickjulie), Brevity

And finally, because if we didn't have a sense of humor about this business, and how trying it can be, I leave you with this clever listicle from Julie Vick on Brevity that I'm sure many of you will find a bit too relatable.

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Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!


Dina L. Relles is a writer with work in The Atlantic, Atticus Review, River TeethSTIR JournalBrain, Child Magazine, Full Grown People, The Manifest-Station, The Washington PostThe Huffington Post, and elsewhere. You can find more of her work on her own site, Commonplaceand you can connect with her on Twitter She lives in New York with her husband and children. Dina is a former blog editor for Literary Mama.


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