Dear Advice Person Lady: Advice for Writers

Writers are neurotic. Are we more neurotic than other artists? Definitely. And it’s time we had our own advice column. A Dear Abby for our literary breakdowns. And if I have to volunteer to be that person, so be it. The letters have been pouring in—which is weird, because how did you know I was going to do this?—and here they are.

Dear Advice Person Lady:
I’m in an MFA program, and there’s this famous writer I kind of have a huge crush on. I’ve never met him, but he’s coming to campus next week, and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to control myself around him. I mean, he’s not only talented, but he’s sooo beautiful. How do I keep from acting like an idiot?


Dear Smitten:
Oh, honey. I promise he’s not as attractive as his author photo. Like, I’ll bet you six hundred bucks. Have you seriously not met a writer before? Problem solved.



Dear Advice Person Lady,
An interviewer said she loved my book, but all the questions she sent me were based on the acknowledgments at the back of the book. And the questions were stupid—she clearly hadn’t read it. When I write back, can I say something snarky like “I hope you do enjoy the book if and when you get a chance to read it”?

AnnoyedContinue Reading

I Have a Favor to Ask


Is there anything more head-smackingly awkward than asking favors of other writers? You might never have experienced writer’s block in your life, but sit down to compose a 200-word email to the friend you need something from, and find yourself twelve hours later with nothing but a vacuumed carpet.

And yet it’s totally necessary. And anyone you’re writing to has definitely been there, wondering how they could possibly ask something so huge from such a busy person, and wishing they’d been to that one magical conference that would have hooked them up with all the contacts and favors ever. You know, the one everyone else went to.

Lucky for you, I’m here to help. Simply use the following form, and you’ll never be pen-tied again.Continue Reading

Sounds Like Your Next Story!


SOUNDS LIKE YOUR NEXT STORY!: a short play with infinite scenes.

Well-Meaning FRIENDs and FAMILY


Lights up on the WRITER and a FRIEND, having coffee.

WRITER: I forgot to tell you about the date. The guy literally asked the bartender out right in front of me, and so—

FRIEND: Hey, at least you could get a great short story out of that! You could give him a really stupid name!

WRITER: Ha, yeah. Well.Continue Reading

Depressing Graphs for Writers

Remember this series of graphs from last month that depressed the hell out of everyone? The one that reminded us that no book from a woman’s point of view has won the Pulitzer in the last 16 years?

We could cry about it, or we could look at some more depressing statistics and then cry about those. Let’s!

graph 1Continue Reading

Was This Review Helpful to You?

one star

Oh, where to even start? I wanted so badly to like this book. The New York Times called it “a trenchant masterpiece,” and it has blurbs from three Nobel Prize winners. So I had sky-high expectations. I anticipated a book that would change my world, that would help me lose twelve pounds and make clear the meaning of life and cure my husband’s erectile dysfunction. This book, while excellent, did none of those things. Threw it across the room on page 20. Ugh. Will not be reading this author again.

one star
The paper was rough to the touch, and after just three weeks the back cover ripped. Also, the book was “like new,” not “new.” Regret ordering from vendor BookXPress314. Do not recommend!!

one star
The author, a known Liberal, has a clear agenda here in including an African-American neighbor and a “lesbian” boss. I read to be entertained, not to have someone’s politics shoved down my throat. I was going to pass this on to my sister, but instead I recycled the book.Continue Reading

Erotica for Writers

sexy pen

Here in Chicago, we have a series called Naked Girls Reading. No joke. I know what you’re thinking. You’re either asking yourself why this would be a thing, or why you don’t live in Chicago, or whether there isn’t a Naked Boys Reading series. (Only in London, apparently, and can we please fix that?)

If you aren’t lucky enough to make it to one of these events, don’t worry! Here is some porn for writers. Eight porns, to be exact. Writers are a varied lot, so I’ve tried to include something for everyone. Well, almost everyone. Some of y’all are sick.

Porn 1: You know when someone is reading your manuscript, and they like something, how they put a checkmark in the margin? You know how sometimes there’s even a double checkmark? Well, what about a triple checkmark? Quadruple? Now we’re talking. Pentuple. It’s possible. Yeah, baby.

Porn 2: Misplaced commas, bother you, don’t they? Do they, bother you a lot? How much, do they, bother you? What about apostrophe’s? I bet you want to fix that, don’t you? Well you can’t, because you’re handcuffed to the bed.

Porn 3: Grainy lighting on a small workshop room, six cardiganed writers around a conference table. Saxophone. The workshop leader rises and plucks a stack of papers from his briefcase, tossing it on the table. It’s your short story. Yes, it is.

“This work,” says the obnoxious girl in the corner, “it makes me want to quit writing forever. It’s that good. If I can’t write this well, what’s the point?”Continue Reading

How to Win AWP


I’ve always felt that AWP* could be livened up by a conference-long game of Paintball Assassin. Until that happens, here’s some other stuff to try:

The Book Fair Bartering Game:

Start with free swag. Something cool, like a box of matches with a chapbook cover on it. Find the bored grad student tending another booth. (A booth with better swag, preferably swag that costs something. Like magnets. Magnets always cost more than you’d think.) Trade the matchbox for a magnet, then trade up your magnet for a hat, and so on. There is at least one booth with a bottle of bourbon. You win the game if you get the bottle when it’s still half full.

The Start-Your-Own-VIP-Party Game:

You don’t have to be a VIP. You just have to convince all the VIPs that the real VIP party is in the back room of Potbelly’s. Then you lock them in there and don’t let them out until at least five of them have written you blurbs.

The Intentional Misidentification Game:

Approach any writer who is clearly not Junot Diaz but could maybe, in a dark alley, pass for him, and excitedly shout that you loved Drown. You win the game when someone goes along with it. Bonus points if he signs your nametag as Junot Diaz.Continue Reading

Calisthenics for Writers

exerciseWriter’s Butt is a real and tragic thing. You might be making great progress on that novel, but is your seat getting wider with every word count goal? Is your back so tight that when you stand up your arms are permanently locked in that T-Rex typing position? Time to stretch out and get the blood flowing with these specially designed exercises. (As always, consult your physician before starting any vigorous training regimen.)

Bind together seven copies of literary magazines that rejected you, and impale them on the end of a sharp stick. Now do the same with seven more mags on the other end of the stick. Now it’s time for the free lift! That thing must weigh at least ten pounds.

Sitting in your rolling chair, use your feet to propel yourself away from your computer in disgust. The sudden motion and rush of oxygen might give you a new idea. If it does, tiptoe-crawl your chair back to your desk, because you’re too far away to grab the edge of it with your hands. This uses your abs more than you’d think.

Switch to an old-timey manual typewriter. After a few weeks, your fingers will be strong enough to curl your own ironic handlebar moustache.Continue Reading

Ten writers to watch for. No, seriously, watch the hell out for these writers.


There are writers to watch for, and then there are writers to watch out for. A sampling of the latter, for your safety:

10) Jack Hogue is a great guy, but if you listen to him for more than five minutes, you’ll believe the publishing world, if not the world itself, has come to an end. Do you know how much he made on his last collection? Negative seven thousand dollars, because he tore his ACL carrying around bags of his own books to conferences his publisher wouldn’t pay to send him to, and also our insurance system is broken. He’ll probably never write again, but at least he has tenure now, so he can pretty much just drink all day in his office. Here, let him buy you a gimlet. Follow him into the abyss.

9) Warby Graham is kind of shocked that you haven’t heard of all these incredibly important twenty-two-year-old writers who live in his building in Williamsburg, but then maybe that’s because you’re super old. No offense but aren’t you, like, thirty? Yeah, that’s probably why. They’re all into something called Metaflarf, which it’s amazing you haven’t been following, because it’s probably the most important literary movement since that thing where you make paper hats out of David Foster Wallace’s endpapers.

8) Denise Cuhaj has no boundaries. She will put your hand on her tattoo and make you feel it with your eyes closed. She’s a close-talker, which wouldn’t be so upsetting if she weren’t telling you how you were in her dream last night, carrying her around in a blanket. Continue Reading

Second Time’s the Charm

1153px-Roller_Derby_1950We’re better at most things the second time around. Poaching eggs. Seventh grade. Guessing which hand the marble is in.

Writers might not be better at things by the second book, but at least we’re better prepared. (And I’m talking here about the publication process, the “your book is out in the world” thing. The writing doesn’t get any easier. Sorry, love.) If you’re not on your second book yet—if you’re not on your first, either—you have time to learn from my idiocy. Here are some of the things you think you know the first time around, and the things you know you know going into the second book.

Book #1: You think you pretty much know your book’s flaws. You can guess what the negative reviews will say.

Book #2: You understand that people will take issue with things you never dreamed could be issues. The setting shift you worried so much about will never come up; but the fact that your character neglects to feed his cat in chapter six—that will prompt someone to write a one-star review about how they can’t root for characters who are cruel to animals.

Continue Reading