A

Alejandro Zambra

Zambra:

I’ve been writing most of my life; it’s just something I do. There is a big difference between writing and publishing. I don’t have any doubts that I need writing. I need it personally because this is the way I think. Publishing my book is like giving it away. At first you start talking about it, but you are basically letting go. I won’t say it’s like giving birth because I haven’t given birth. It’s more like when your children leave home. read more

Autofiction

The End of Eddy is an instance of what is sometimes called autofiction, which has been the source of some of the most interesting English-language fiction of the past decade. There is a long tradition of such writing, especially in French, and queer writers are central to it: behind all such novels lies the example of Proust; the works of the French novelist Hervé Guibert and the American Edmund White are more recent precursors of Louis’s book. read more

B

Boredom

“Boredom is the fear of self.”

– Marie Josephine Suin De Beausacq

Bookshelf—Books published by our alumni.

Girl in Translation Book Cover

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Introducing a fresh, exciting Chinese-American voice, Girl in Translation is an inspiring debut about a young immigrant in America, a smart girl who, living a double life between school and sweatshop, understands that her family’s future is in her hands. read more

C

Character

“I start with one character, then another character comes along,” she says. “Each one has his or her own life, whether they’re on a stoop in Queens or in prison in upstate New York or in a school in Manhattan. I start writing those scenes, then put them together, which gets me moving toward something. Often, I don’t know where I’m going until I get there.”
– Jacqueline Woodson

Children’s Books

“What is a story? It is a form of authority. If I tell you a story, you are almost certain to listen. A story is easier to follow, and therefore to remember, than a chain of disconnected facts, because it has causality, one event leads to another. It is like swimming with the current — whereas memorizing unrelated facts is like swimming upstream. read more

Control

“Sometimes it takes more courage to be the passenger than to be the driver.”
– E. L. Konigsburg

Copywriters

Why Great Copywriters Make Great Novelists
By Lisa Friedman

Who used to be a copywriter?

It’s a regular roll call of the literarily famous: Fay Weldon and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Dorothy Sayers and Salman Rushdie. Don DeLillo and Joseph Heller. Amy Tan, William Gaddis, Elliott Holt—the list goes on. So, what did they learn in Adland that propelled them into the book world? read more

D

Darkness

“If a book [that you’re writing] is too dark, it controls you.”
– Akhil Sharma

Discipline

“I was obsessive with writing, but I wasn’t ever disciplined. Because if you’re obsessive you don’t need discipline. You just do it all the time. Why would you impose a regimen, when this is your love?”
– Lorrie Moore

E

Earning a Living

Margaret Atwood was a coffee-shop worker. Octavia Butler labored as a dishwasher, a telemarketer, and a potato-chip inspector, among other endeavors. Agatha Christie was part of a Voluntary Aid Detachment working at a military hospital in Devon during World War I; she was also an apothecary’s assistant. Harper Lee toiled as a ticket agent for an airline. Lorrie Moore was a paralegal. Zadie Smith worked as a jazz singer. read more

Editing

“What a good editor does is make your text the way you really would have wanted it to be if you had been doing it on your most disciplined, best day. It’s like Michelangelo looking at a piece of marble. There’s a shape inside it. And one of the ways to get that shape out in a text is to have editors who try to put themselves in your shoes and figure out what you’re trying to do, where you may have succeeded—and where you may not have.”
– Daniel Menaker

E.L. Konigsburg

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for people who want to be writers?

E.L. Konigsburg: I always give one word, and the word is: finish. The word is finish because I think the difference between being a person of talent and being a writer is the ability to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish. It means you’ll sit there and work out the details, and work out the next transition, and that you’ll have the discipline to transform talent into a written story, book, whatever.

Essays

“What is an essay? An essay is a work of literary art which has a minimum of one anecdote and one ‘universal idea.’ If it has no anecdote, it is at best doctrine and at worst shouting in the motel bar. If it has no universal idea, and its anecdote is autobiographical, it is at best autobiog-raphy, at worst shouting in the motel bar. If it has no idea and its anecdote is not autobiographical but is true of someone else, it is at best biography or history, and at worst gossip. In any case, it is an essay as soon as it has both idea and true anecdote. And it is 3000% easier to write than a short story.”
– Carol Bly

F

First drafts

“We have to approach the first draft of a short story entirely differently from how we work on any of the subsequent drafts. This is the draft in which we do no assessing and no organizing because we are inventing. We are still generating, not judging. In the first draft, we get to be like people in journal courses: we simply write. read more

Form

“Every form is difficult, no one is easier than another. They all kick your ass.”
– James Baldwin

G

Genre

“I don’t pay much attention to the distinction between fantasy and science fiction–or between ‘genre’ and ‘mainstream’ for that matter. For me, all fiction is about prizing the logic of metaphors— read more

H

Happiness

“Writing saves me from the despair of living.”
– Anita Brookner

Henry James

“James transfigured the novel form, or at least offered it the possibility to be something entirely new. If I were asked to identify the place where he effected this change, I should point to chapter 27 of The Portrait of a Lady—‘obviously the best thing in the book,’ in the author’s opinion— when one night Isabel Archer sits alone by the fireside in the palace in Rome where she lives with her husband, Gilbert Osmond, and contemplates the disaster that she, with the secret connivance of others, has made of her life. Here, in this chapter, as it navigates the stream of Isabel’s consciousness, was the “psychological novel” born. And here, too, was born the novel as an art form.”
– John Banville

Humor Writing

“I actually think of being funny as an odd turn of mind, like a mild disability, some weird way of looking at the world that you can’t get rid of. It’s odd: one of the questions that people ask me constantly is, Is it hard having to be funny all the time? read more

I

Imitation

“A rational fear of plagiarizing, and an individualistic valuation of originality, have stopped many prose writers from using deliberate imitation as a learning tool. In poetry courses, students may be asked to write ‘in the manner of’ so-and-so, or to use a stanza or a cadence from a published poet as a model, but teachers of prose writing seem to shun the very idea of imitating. I think conscious, deliberate imitation of a piece of prose one admires can be good training, a means towards finding one’s own voice as a narrative writer. What is essential is the consciousness. When imitating, it’s necessary to remember the work, however successful, is practice, not an end in itself, but a means towards the end of writing with skill and freedom in one’s own voice.”
– Ursula Le Guin

Inspiration

“There is no need to wait for inspiration, no need to find your confidence; no need to know exactly why or what you’re writing; no need to read wise and thoughtful books about how to write; no need to know your story; no need to understand your characters; no need to be sure you’re on the right track; no need even for your research to be complete. No need now. read more

L

Lidia Yuknavitch

“Everything that’s ever happened to you is alive inside your body. Your body carries your experiences with you. That ache in your lower back is a story. Where desire ignites on your body is a story. The way you get an eye twitch when you talk or think about certain things is a story. When you blush, sweat, laugh, cry—all stories. read more

M

Memoir

One of the questions about memoir we hear most often at the Amsterdam Writing Workshops is: How much freedom do we have to invent? Is “making things up” in this kind of narrative the same as lying? Consider what the accomplished memoirist Vivian Gornick has to say. read more

Memoir: Why Has It Become So Popular?

“The first frankly confessional writing in American literature seems to have been F. Scott Fitzgerald’s painfully candid “The Crack-Up.” This is memoir in the guise of self-abnegation and exposure. Fitzgerald was a Catholic, and perhaps it is a Catholic gesture of ‘confession’—in this case openly, lavishly. Then, in the late 1950s and 1960s American poetry exploded—the Confessional Poets read more

N

Novel

“Rules of thumb:

1) Start in the middle of things; begin in motion.

2) Stay in motion by not letting the summary intrude; keep the summary feeding into the scene in hints and driblets, by what Ibsen called the ‘uncovering’ technique. read more

O

Originality

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.”
– Jim Jarmusch

P

Plot

“Plot is nothing; plot is simply time, a timeline.”
– Grace Paley read more

Procrastination

“Procrastination is the indispensable foundation supporting a vast structure known as ‘your time.’ Twenty-four hours, seven days a week, every week, all year long, it’s a broad canvas, waiting to be filled. read more

Q

Q&A: The Amsterdam Writing Workshops

1. What’s a good starting point for the workshops? 

Some people prefer to start with “Simply Writing,” because it’s all about being able to get the words out of your head and onto the page. Others prefer to get started with “The Short Story” or “Writing Nonfiction.” To discuss whether this class is right for you, please call or send us a mail. read more

Queer theory

“Queer theory…is a prism through which scholars examine literary texts. Queer theorists scorn traditional definitions of ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual.’ There is no strict demarcation between male and female, they argue. Instead, queer theorists say, taking their cue from the historian Michel Foucault, sexuality exists on a continuum, with some people preferring sex partners of the opposite sex, others preferring partners of both sexes. Only since the 19th century, queer theorists argue, have sexual definitions become rigid. And along with this rigidity, they say, has come anxiety, panic and intensifying homophobic attitudes.”
– Dinitia Smith

R

Reading

“Reading is bread.”
– Cynthia Ozick read more

Rejection

“Persist. If you stop, then you’re removing yourself from the conversation. read more

Remainders

In Praise of Remainder Books
Food that no one really wants to eat is called leftovers. Lengths of cloth that no one really wants to buy are called remnants. And books that no one really wants to read are called remainders. read more

Revision

“The greatest pleasure in writing is rewriting.”
– Donald Hall read more

S

Scene

“To make a scene is to put your characters onstage and let them act out their own story. The point of view may not be strictly objective…but any scene is essentially dramatic; it follows George M. Cohan’s celebrated advice, ‘Don’t tell ’em—show ’em.’ A scene must persuade us in all its aspects, which means that the characters must be credible and consistent; that the dialog must approximate real talk read more

Selfishness and Writing

“A book is made out of small selfishnesses. The selfishness of shutting the door against your family. The selfishness of ignoring the pram in the hall. The selfishness of forgetting the real world to create a new one. The selfishness of stealing stories from real people. The selfishness of saving the best of yourself for that blank-faced anonymous paramour, the reader. The selfishness that comes from simply saying what you have to say.”
– Claire Dederer

T

Theme

“I prefer to talk about the meaning in a story rather than the theme of a story. People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like the string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if they can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. read more

Truth

“The only way you can tell the truth is by concentrating and not turning away from it.”
– Celia Paul, Painter

U

Under-narrated

Meaning: not much written about read more

V

Vulnerability

“The determination to share, to enlighten, to entertain by writing reflects what is finest in human nature. . . It takes pride and a strong sense of self to write for publication, to tell the world (or a small part thereof) that we think our ideas are important, our experiences valuable—even at the risk of being contradicted, ridiculed, or ignored. Writers make themselves vulnerable the same way good teachers do: by taking what is innermost (an insight, an affection, an encounter) and exposing it to public view, struggling to make it as precise, as poignant, as persuasive as possible. For some it is a form of martyrdom, for others, masochism, for most, it is an irrepressible necessity.”
– Anthony Prete

W

Why Write

“The agony that goes into writing is borne precisely because the writer longs for acceptance.”
– Ralph Ellison

“The ascent of creative-writing, particularly in an age dominated by the impatient pursuit of visual stimulation, might seem harder to explain. But my sense is that people remain desperate for the emotional communion provided by literature.”
– Steve Almond

Writers & Family

Many a book has not been written on account of the writer’s fear of hurting family members in the process. Consider Jenny Zhang’s sane and sensitive response when asked about this: read more

Writing & Politics

“If you are a writer from turbulent geographies, such as Turkey, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan or Mexico, you do not have the luxury of being apolitical. read more

Writing Workshops

“A writing workshop or a literature class isn’t a rehearsal for some future performance. It’s a space, maybe even a sanctuary, in which a group of writers come together to practice the discipline of reading: where we learn to engage with the words on the page and the world they portray, assess, or open.”
– Kyoko Mori

X

Xanaduism

“[Xanaduism is] academic research that focuses on the sources behind imaginative works of literature and fantasy. John Livingstone Lowes, in his publication The Road to Xanadu (1927), inspired the name, which in turn goes back to Coleridge’s visionary poem ‘Kubla Khan’. . . . More recently, the term has been used in a pejorative sense to describe scholarship involving dubious scrutiny of amorphous, difficult-to-prove sources, especially simplistic studies lacking any redeeming theoretical perspectives.”
– L. Kit Wheeler

Y

YA Literature

Young Adult Literature

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