Years ago when my sister was visiting


By Alicia Anstead | Published: August 20, 2013


O-WqiyqAvdDpKieuYcaejtuTi073HQxa1fSw935fZqQ,FBpf2r9q5PbwytobORwHXGOIp8hbMayY_0naTMp9gXQ,fKzKRIPCuZY2dNq0ELBydTD3KGSJ5qa8FV16OFyKe_cYears ago when my sister was visiting, she deposited a lucky charm in my garden. The polished green glass stone remained hidden for a long time, maybe most of the summer – which is more of a testament to my ineffectual weeding habits than her camouflage techniques.

When I eventually found the stone and wiped off the mud, one word gleamed at me: WRITE. At that moment, I had no idea about my sister’s mischief. All I knew was that a talisman seemed to have revealed itself to me with a clear directive. Only later did I learn the provenance of the engraved stone. But the message now greets me every day when I sit at my desk where the stone has been added to a small collection of trinkets.

Writers are, by nature, a bit superstitious. You have to have talent, but what role does luck play into your success? Here at The Writer, we believe in a version of the old Sufi adage: Trust God, but tie up your camel. Have faith in yourself as a writer, but take the steps to secure a strong foundation in the craft.

That’s our approach in this issue, in which we turn to authoritative writers – David Rhodes, Callie Khouri, Bill Cheng, John Freeman, John Maberry – for a look at tried-and-true techniques from daily practitioners. In other stories, we visit a poetry class for seniors who look to “creative subsoil of the aging experience” for inspiration, and we explore the literary magazine Brain, Child for insights into women’s experiences, and take on the question: When should I call it quits on a short story?

Author Jay Lake shares his painful story about terminal cancer here and with shocking generosity offers insights for other writers. After all, as he knows, we do tend to focus on the positive in these pages. For instance, how can you condense your book’s theme and plot into a tweet-like summary for agents, marketing, book jackets and press releases? Or how can parts of your life unrelated to writing – physical therapy, for instance – be models for improving discipline and habits? For a bit of levity, we include a monthly report from the world of social media: a Twitter thread about writing routines, and a visual prompt that has had some traction on Facebook.

We also hope you’ll find this month’s MFA guide useful and thought-provoking – particularly as a tool to support your craft in a more formal way.

The key, of course, is to follow the advice on the stone: WRITE. Through the ups and downs, the challenges and joys, the beginnings and ends. We look at all those angles in this issue. Believe in your work. And tie up your camel right here in the pages of The Writer.

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Alicia Anstead
Editor-in-Chief