Glimmer Train Bulletin: Writing Advice from Benjamin Percy and Others

As always, this month’s bulletin from the literary journal Glimmer Train features some good insights into the writing process and its psychological blocks.

Paola Corso talks about how her fear of revealing family secrets delayed her from sending out her novel-in-stories, Catina’s Haircut (University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), which follows four generations of an Italian peasant family from their Calabrian hilltown to Pittsburgh. Her conclusion: “I’ve come to realize that rather than hide it, I should confront it, complicate the simplicity, offer a distinct perspective and details that make it my own, a story that only I can and must tell before it’s told for me….[Rejection] shouldn’t be accepted as a way to silence writers and, more importantly, to silence ourselves. Good stories need to be told and told well. Write them or be written.”

Benjamin Percy advises writers: give everything you’ve got to the piece you’re working on right now. Don’t hold back the good material for later. You’ll always find more:

…Tony Early (the author of Jim the Boy) cured me of that. Years ago, I was talking to him about his story, one of my favorite stories, “The Prophet from Jupiter.” He said that he put everything he had into it. “I was tired of holding back,” he said. His stories up to that point, he felt, had been good. But he wanted to write something truly great, an earth-shaker. So he put every last drop of himself, all of his best material, into a single story.

And it worked. “Prophet” appeared in Harper’s, scored a National Magazine Award, and to this day is widely taught and anthologized.

There was a price. After he finished the story, he lay on the couch feeling emptied, carved-out, certain he would never write anything again. This lasted for two weeks. And then the well filled back up.

Read these and other essays in Bulletin 45.

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