Writing Advice from Joanna Rakoff

Fiction and non-fiction writer Joanna Rakoff will be presenting at WWLA: The Conference as part of the panel “Oh, the Humanity!: Creating Complex Characters on the Page.”

Joanna shared a few pieces of writing advice, for us brave, enthusiastic and talented:

1. A couple of years ago, I read a profile of Jodi Picoult, whom I’d never heard of at the time, and I’ve never read a word she’s written (and likely never will). She described her approach to writing as “ass in chair.” I was at a rough point with my new book and it was enormously helpful to tell myself “ass in chair” — in other words, just sit there and write. Truth is, it worked, I broke through and the rest of the book came quickly.

2. This summer, Jamie Quattro quoted one of her mentors as saying that a story needs to have the same level of urgency as a close friend sitting down with you, leaning across the table, and saying,  I HAVE TO TELL YOU SOMETHING RIGHT NOW. This basically encapsulates my own feelings about all writing—for me, even a book review, an essay on waste removal, needs to have that urgency, that sense of a larger framework—and it was hugely helpful to have it tossed back at me in a different form.

JOANNA RAKOFF is the author of the novel A Fortunate Age, which won the Goldberg Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Editors’ Pick, a winner of the Elle Readers’ Prize, and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Seller. Her memoir, My Salinger Year, is out in June. She’s written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles TimesVogue, Marie Claire, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other publications.

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