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Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping

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A groundbreaking resource for fiction writers, teachers, and students, this manifesto and practical guide challenges current models of craft and the writing workshop by showing how they fail marginalized writers, and how cultural expectations inform storytelling. The traditional writing workshop was established with white male writers in mind; what we call craft is infor A groundbreaking resource for fiction writers, teachers, and students, this manifesto and practical guide challenges current models of craft and the writing workshop by showing how they fail marginalized writers, and how cultural expectations inform storytelling. The traditional writing workshop was established with white male writers in mind; what we call craft is informed by their cultural values. In this bold and original examination of elements of writing—including plot, character, conflict, structure, and believability—and aspects of workshop—including the silenced writer and the imagined reader—Matthew Salesses asks questions to invigorate these familiar concepts. He upends Western notions of how a story must progress. How can we rethink craft, and the teaching of it, to better reach writers with diverse backgrounds? How can we invite diverse storytelling traditions into literary spaces? Drawing from examples including One Thousand and One Nights, Curious George, Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, and the Asian American classic No-No Boy, Salesses asks us to reimagine craft and the workshop. In the pages of exercises included here, teachers will find suggestions for building syllabi, grading, and introducing new methods to the classroom; students will find revision and editing guidance, as well as a new lens for reading their work. Salesses shows that we need to interrogate the lack of diversity at the core of published fiction: how we teach and write it. After all, as he reminds us, "When we write fiction, we write the world."


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A groundbreaking resource for fiction writers, teachers, and students, this manifesto and practical guide challenges current models of craft and the writing workshop by showing how they fail marginalized writers, and how cultural expectations inform storytelling. The traditional writing workshop was established with white male writers in mind; what we call craft is infor A groundbreaking resource for fiction writers, teachers, and students, this manifesto and practical guide challenges current models of craft and the writing workshop by showing how they fail marginalized writers, and how cultural expectations inform storytelling. The traditional writing workshop was established with white male writers in mind; what we call craft is informed by their cultural values. In this bold and original examination of elements of writing—including plot, character, conflict, structure, and believability—and aspects of workshop—including the silenced writer and the imagined reader—Matthew Salesses asks questions to invigorate these familiar concepts. He upends Western notions of how a story must progress. How can we rethink craft, and the teaching of it, to better reach writers with diverse backgrounds? How can we invite diverse storytelling traditions into literary spaces? Drawing from examples including One Thousand and One Nights, Curious George, Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, and the Asian American classic No-No Boy, Salesses asks us to reimagine craft and the workshop. In the pages of exercises included here, teachers will find suggestions for building syllabi, grading, and introducing new methods to the classroom; students will find revision and editing guidance, as well as a new lens for reading their work. Salesses shows that we need to interrogate the lack of diversity at the core of published fiction: how we teach and write it. After all, as he reminds us, "When we write fiction, we write the world."

30 review for Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping

  1. 4 out of 5

    Roxane

    This outstanding, absolutely brilliant book completely upends what we know about craft discourse. It is challenging, for sure. It really forces you to examine how you think about craft and why, but it also offers new ideas about what craft is and how it can better function in the real world, populated by different kinds of people. Loved this book. Will be returning to it many times and will absolutely be including this book in my teaching.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Salesses

    Talking bout a revolution...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Pollock

    I loved this book! The author is a writing teacher and this book is his philosophy of what a meaningful writing workshop could be for writers who fall outside of the Hemingway demographic (white, straight, male, cis, affluent, able, etc.) He articulates why I have typically found traditional workshopping a less than helpful experience and I want to be part of these new workshop structures! The book seems like its primary audience is writing teachers who lead craft workshops, but it has a broader I loved this book! The author is a writing teacher and this book is his philosophy of what a meaningful writing workshop could be for writers who fall outside of the Hemingway demographic (white, straight, male, cis, affluent, able, etc.) He articulates why I have typically found traditional workshopping a less than helpful experience and I want to be part of these new workshop structures! The book seems like its primary audience is writing teachers who lead craft workshops, but it has a broader appeal for anyone who writes and has questioned the "traditional" writing workshop structure. Salesses explains in clear terms why the "traditional" structure works well for straight, white, cis, affluent, able, male (etc.) writers but often doesn't provide meaningful writing development opportunities for writers who fall outside that narrow "Hemingway"-esque demographic. Really upliftng and validating to read and realize that past workshop experiences which felt unhelpful at best (bullying at worst) might be chalked up to the structure of the workshop itself as being a space not created for me. I received an ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Steve Haruch

    Even if you don't teach writing, or are not a writer yourself, this book deftly unravels the underlying ideologies that prop up "craft" as some kind of natural or inevitable set of practices. Simply put: this book will make you a better and more informed reader. Even if you don't teach writing, or are not a writer yourself, this book deftly unravels the underlying ideologies that prop up "craft" as some kind of natural or inevitable set of practices. Simply put: this book will make you a better and more informed reader.

  5. 4 out of 5

    C.L. Clark

    Echoes some things I've been mulling over in my own teaching (and writing) processes, and brings up some new ones. Can't wait to be back in a class again to try things out. In the meantime, I think this is also great for considering editor/writer relationships and how that process can go. The practical aspects--syllabus, grading options, and writing excercise--are massively valuable. I expect to get a lot of use out of all of it. Echoes some things I've been mulling over in my own teaching (and writing) processes, and brings up some new ones. Can't wait to be back in a class again to try things out. In the meantime, I think this is also great for considering editor/writer relationships and how that process can go. The practical aspects--syllabus, grading options, and writing excercise--are massively valuable. I expect to get a lot of use out of all of it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jerome Blanco

    Transformative. A must-read for fiction writers.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Misha

    "To name or not name a character's race is a matter of craft. To consider a character to be white unless stated otherwise is a matter of craft. Since this is a craft book, let's explore what exactly is at stake for the craft of fiction here. There are three possibilities: 1. If fiction dictates that a writer identify only the race of non-white characters, then craft is a tool used to normalize whiteness. 2. If race is a factor only in stories with characters of color, then craft must be different "To name or not name a character's race is a matter of craft. To consider a character to be white unless stated otherwise is a matter of craft. Since this is a craft book, let's explore what exactly is at stake for the craft of fiction here. There are three possibilities: 1. If fiction dictates that a writer identify only the race of non-white characters, then craft is a tool used to normalize whiteness. 2. If race is a factor only in stories with characters of color, then craft must be different for fiction with characters of color than it is for fiction with white characters. 3. Otherwise, if any mention of race affects a story, then, like setting, race must be a part of any craft discussion." (xiv) "What we call craft is in fact nothing more or less than a set of expectations. ...These expectations are never neutral. They represent the values of the culturally dominant population: in America that means (straight, cis, able, upper-middle-class) white males. When craft is taught unreflexively, within a limited understanding of the canon, it reinforces narrow ideas about whose stories are important and what makes a story beautiful, moving, or good. We need to rethink craft and the teaching of it to better serve writers with increasingly diverse backgrounds, which means diverse ways of telling stories. Like in revision, the fiction writer must break down what she thinks she knows about her craft in order to liberate it." (xv-xvi) "Make no mistake--writing is power. What this fact should prompt us to ask is: What kind of power is it, where does it come from, and what does it mean?" (xviii) "Workshop has created many axioms: 'show, don't tell,' 'write what you know,' 'kill your darlings,' etc. Writers have pushed back against these axioms, but we must also push back against the context that creates them, that nurtures them and passes them on. If not, we simply recreate the same exceptions within the same culturally defined argument we were taught to engage in. Whole other traditions of writing become only rule-breaking, boundary-crossing. Some of us have larger arguments at stake, arguments often about the bounds of the argument themselves, of what is and is not normal, good, beautiful. A workshop should not participate in the binding but in freeing the writer from the culturally regulated boundaries of what it is possible to say and how it is possible to say it." (xxii-xxiii) "Craft works best, then, when a writer and a reader share the same cultural background. If a writer were to use 'ask' in a culture where 'queried' is an invisible term, then 'ask' would draw attention to itself--it would lose its value as invisible." (4) "Do I raise my hand to object or even ask questions? It is possible that my objections will lead to an interesting discussion about what a 'type' is and does. But it is also possible that I will feel mocked or attacked or at least condescended to." (8) "Writers of color in a workshop where the craft values are implicitly white, or LGBT writers in a workshop where the craft values are straight and cis, or women writers in a workshop where the craft values are patriarchal, and so on, are regularly told to 'know the rules before they can break them.' They are rarely told that these rules are more than 'just craft' or 'pure craft,' that rules are always cultural. The spread of craft starts to feel and work like colonization." (10) Excerpts from What is Craft? 25 Thoughts "1. Craft is a set of expectations. 2. Expectations are not universal; they are standardized. ...In her book Immigrant Acts,theorist Lisa Lowe argues that the novel regulates cultural ideas of identity, nationhood, gender, sexuality, race, and history. Lowe suggests that Western psychological realism, especially the bildungsroman/coming-of-age novel, has tended toward stories about the individual reincorporated into society--an outsider finds his place in the world, though not without loss. Other writers and scholars share Lowe's reading. ... Some of these protagonists end up happy and some unhappy, but all end up incorporated into society. A common craft axiom states that by the end of a story, a protagonist must either change or fail to change. These novels fulfill this expectation. In the end, it's not only the characters who find themselves trapped by societal norms. It's the novels." (16-17) "Craft is also about omission. What rules and archetypes standardize are models that are easily generalizable to acceptable cultural preferences. What doesn't fit the model is othered. What is our responsibility to the other?" (18) "Craft is the history of which kind of stories have typically held power--and for whom--so it also is the history of which stories have typically been omitted. That we have certain expectations for what a story is or should include means we also have certain expectations for what a story isn't or shouldn't include. Any story relies on negative space, and a tradition relies on the negative space of history. The ability for a reader to fill in white spaces relies on that reading having seen what could be there. Some readers are asked to stay always, only, in the negative. To wield craft responsibly is to take responsibility for absence." (19) "6. In his book on post-World War II MFA programs, Eric Bennett documents how the Iowa Writer's Workshop, the first place to formalize the education of creative writing, fundraised on claims that it would spread American values of freedom, of creative writing and art in general as 'the last refuge of the individual.' The Workshop popularized the idea of craft as non-idealogical, but its claims should make clear that individualism is itself an ideology. (It shouldn't surprise us that apolitical writing has long been a political stance.) If we can admit by now that history is about who has had the power to write history, we should be able to admit the same of craft. Craft is about who has the power to write stories, what stories are historicized and who historicized them, who gets to write literature and who folklore, whose writing is important and to whom, and in what context. That is the process of standardization. If craft is teachable, it is because standardization is teachable. These standards must be challenged and disempowered. Too often craft is taught only as what has already been taught before." (20-21) "7. In the West, fiction is inseparable from the project of the individual." (21) Chinua Achebe on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (22) "Craft is never neutral. Craft is the cure or injury that can be done in our shared world when it isn't acknowledged that there are different ways that world is felt." (22) "8. Since craft is always about expectations, two questions to ask are: Whose expectations? and Who is free to break them? Audre Lorde again: 'The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.' " (22) "9. Expectations belong to an audience. To use craft is to engage with an audience's bias. Like freedom, craft is always craft for someone. Whose expectations does the writer prioritize?" (23-24) "10. In his book The Art of the Novel,Don Quixote and goes through Franz Kafka. ...Kundera wants to decenter internal causation (character-driven plot) and (re)center external causation (such as an earthquake or fascism or God). He insists that psychological realism is no 'realer' than the bureaucratic world Kafka presents in which individuals have little or no agency and everything is a function of the system. (This is also a claim about how to read history.) Only our expectations of what realism is/should be make us classify one type of fiction (which by definition is not 'real') as realer than another. Any novel, for Kundera, is about a possible way of 'being in the world,' and Kafka's bureaucracy came true in the Czech Republic in a way that individual agency did not. Another advocate of Kafka's brand of 'realism' is the author Julio Cortázar. Cortázar is usually considered a fabulist or magical realist. Yet in a series of lectures collected in Literature Class, he categorizes his own and other 'fantastic' stories as simply more inclusive realities." (24-25) "13. Craft, like the self, is made by culture and reflects culture, and can develop to resist and reshape culture if it sufficiently examined and enough work is done to unmake expectations and replace them with new ones. (As Aristotle did by writing the first craft book.)" (29) "14. To really engage with craft is to engage with how we know each other. Craft is inseparable from identity. Craft does not exist outside of society, outside of culture, outside of power. In the world we live in, and write in, craft must reckon with the implications of our expectations for what stories should be--with, as Lorde says, what our ideas really mean." (30) Chinese literary traditions, seen as formless by Western critics--"Chinese narrative comes from a tradition of gossip and street talk" (30-31) "16. Chinese American author Gish Jen claims in Tiger Writing that her fiction combines Western and Eastern craft. She makes a case for Asian American storytelling that mixes the 'independent' and 'interdependent' self: the individual speaker vs. the collective speaker, internal agency vs. external agency." (31) "17. 'Know your audience' is craft. Language has meaning because it has meaning for someone. Meaning and audience do not exist without one another. ...African fiction is written for Africans--what is easier to understand than that? Not that other people can't read it, but, as Chinweizu et al. tell us, it might take 'time and effort and a sloughing off of their racist superiority complexes and imperialist arrogance' to appreciate it." (32-33) "18. There are many crafts, and one way the teaching of craft fails is to teach craft as if it is one." (34) "20. Adoptee stories also frequently feature coincidence and reunion. Maybe that is why I am drawn to external causation, to alternative traditions, to non-Western story shapes. Like Jen, I grew up with fiction that wasn't written for me. My desire to write was probably a desire to give myself the agency I didn't have in life. To give my desires the power of plot." (35) "21. Craft that pretends it does not exist is the craft of conformity or, worse, complicity." (36) Achebe on Conrad: "Conrad isn't able to see the prejudice in his craft: he shares it and expects his audience to share it. Achebe sees the racism because he can't give over his real beliefs to the beliefs in the text. Conrad never, at any point, considered what an actually anti-racist audience would think about the book. A truly anti-colonialist book would have to decolonize its idea of whom it is for." (45) "For a marginalized writer writing to a normative audience, the writer has to be wary of normative craft. Much of what we learn about craft (about the expectations we are supposed to consider) implies a straight, white, cis, able (etc.) audience. It is easy to forget whom we are writing for if we do not keep it at a conscious consideration, and the default is not universal, but privileged. To name the race only of characters of color, for example, because that is how you've seen books do it before, is to write to a white audience. It is to write toward the expectations of how white people read the world. We might think of it as one small concession, but it has real consequences about whom readers must become to read our fiction. And if we start to mix audiences, it quickly becomes difficult to tell what the theme and purpose are at all. To name race for no characters, for example, might seem a tempting solution, but is it a solution for no one except those who know that not naming race is an active choice against naming color. I've gotten into the habit of naming every character's race, since this seems how race operates when I talk to other people of color. It's a choice about whom my fiction is talking to." (46) "As Kurt Vonnegut says...the Cinderella story makes money. People consume it and reproduce it. This means something. There are all sorts of interesting theoretical reasons for this, and most of them boil down to: the story says that there is hope of becoming powerful in a system by accepting your powerlessness within it." (64) "To say a work of fiction is unrelatable is to say, 'I am not the implied audience, so I refuse to engage with the choices the author has made.'" (75) "If the Workshop is supposed to spread American values without looking like it is spreading American values, what better craft for the job than the craft of hiding meaning behind style?" (101) "There is no universal standard of craft--this can't be emphasized enough--but this in no way means that fiction can be separated into on the one hand Western realism and on the other hand various exceptions to it (genre or foreign or experimental or so on). Instead, we must view other standards as exactly that--not as exceptions but as norms. Diversity, in the parlance of our times, should not be tokenism." (101) "Eventually, the author Nami Mun explained to me that she leads each workshop differently since each story is different." (118-9) "Typically, when fiction writers employ the term 'the reader,' they do so to refer to a generalized reader (not even a specific or even an intended one.) This means that the term rarely makes a distinction between a male reader or a female reader, a white reader or a Black reader, a cis straight reader or an LGBTQ+ reader--and even acts as a shield sometimes for the person talking. To refer to 'the reader' in this way is to flatten audience to a single group of readers who share a single group of cultural expectations. Different readerships are overlooked or othered, the result of which is to make difference an exception. Difference becomes a burden, one that falls upon writers already burdened by their difference in the world." (119) "As craft is a set of expectations, the workshop needs to know which expectations, whose expectations, the author wishes to engage with, if the workshop is to imagine useful possibilities for the story. And if the main benefit of workshop is reading stories in progress/process, then we need to acknowledge and utilize the benefit of hearing about that process. Why do we let this opportunity go when it can be used to better interpret a story? To silence the author is to willingly misinterpret the author. It is to insist that she must write to the workshop." (120) "The real danger is not a single story, it's a single audience." (120)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Deedi Brown (DeediReads)

    All my reviews live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/. TL;DR REVIEW: Craft in the Real World is really, really excellent. It should be required reading for anyone who writes or reviews fiction. For you if: You are a fiction writer, or you review books regularly (especially if your reviews have a following). FULL REVIEW: “A common complaint about the proliferation of MFA programs is that they breed generic writing. The real danger is not a single style, it's a single audience. It is effectively a All my reviews live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/. TL;DR REVIEW: Craft in the Real World is really, really excellent. It should be required reading for anyone who writes or reviews fiction. For you if: You are a fiction writer, or you review books regularly (especially if your reviews have a following). FULL REVIEW: “A common complaint about the proliferation of MFA programs is that they breed generic writing. The real danger is not a single style, it's a single audience. It is effectively a kind of colonization to assume that we all write for the same audience or that we should do so if we want our fiction to sell.” First of all, a huge thank-you to Catapult for sending me a complimentary copy of this book. This book should be required reading for writers, yes, but I also think that it should be required reading for people who review books — especially literary fiction, and also especially reviewers who have an audience/platform, like bookstagrammers. What makes characters feel “round” or relatable? What makes a detail feel poignant and effective vs mundane and unnecessary? What makes the shape of a plot feel compelling? We tend to think of the answer to all of these questions as teachable, as a given, as “good craft.” But “good craft” isn’t universal — it’s cultural. And it’s time we remember that as we decide what is good and what is not. In this book, Matthew Salesses takes a concept that seems sort of obvious when you say it out loud — that whether a book is “good” is best judged by the audience it was written for — and picks it apart into its individual implications for the way we think about (and teach) the craft of fiction. He explains, over and over again in slightly different ways that really drive his point home, the danger of catering to what is conventionally considered “good” craft, and the erasure and bias that results when we do. He redefines many pieces of craft — like plot, setting, structure, and pacing — through this new lens and provides suggestions for how to be more conscious of biases as we write and judge fiction. Again, I can’t state enough how important this book feels for book reviewers, not just writers. The only part that may be less relevant if you aren’t a writer is the final section, in which Salesses provides (excellent) syllabus suggestions for teachers and prompts for writers. But it’s still more than worth it for the value and shift in perspective that you’ll get from the rest. Book reviewers exist to amplify the voices and stories that the world needs to hear. We have a responsibility to cast judgments that are as free from unconscious bias as possible so that we are not unwittingly silencing those voices and stories. Here is a tool to help us get better at it. “If I’ve gotten away from how to use setting, it’s because the effects of noticing are profound. What is noticed depends on who does the noticing. Cold weather affects someone not used to cold weather far more than it affects someone who is used to it. A strange man in an otherwise empty parking lot is a different setting for a female protagonist than for a male protagonist. A speed trap is a different setting for a Black protagonist than for a white protagonist. A staircase is a different setting for a protagonist in a wheelchair than for a protagonist who can easily ascend it. Etc. Perhaps one of the reasons a white author might have trouble writing a protagonist of color is that the author is noticing the wrong things. The author is thinking of setting as a character of its own rather than reliant on character.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    fucking brilliant and genuinely groundbreaking — i don’t need to imagine how validating this book will be for writers and readers from marginalized backgrounds, as i felt a lot of that relief and vindication myself. if you read or write, read this!!! especially if you’re white/cis/het/american/“western” and at all interested in decolonizing the way we’re taught to evaluate what makes “good” writing good and valuable.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lavanya

    Absolutely devoured this brilliant, funny, thrilling book. Mind blown by this new consciousness of craft, as tools that are neither pure nor neutral, but inseparable from who is writing, for whom, and in what cultural context. So much respect for Matthew Salesses!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Cruikshank

    “The argument that one should know the rules before breaking them is really an argument about who gets to make the rules, whose rules get to be the norms and determine the exceptions.… Writing that follows nondominant cultural standards is often treated as if it is ‘breaking the rules,’ but why one set of rules and not another? What is official always has to do with power.” CRAFT IN THE REAL WORLD is written by a Korean–American author and is primarily directed to writers and workshop instructors “The argument that one should know the rules before breaking them is really an argument about who gets to make the rules, whose rules get to be the norms and determine the exceptions.… Writing that follows nondominant cultural standards is often treated as if it is ‘breaking the rules,’ but why one set of rules and not another? What is official always has to do with power.” CRAFT IN THE REAL WORLD is written by a Korean–American author and is primarily directed to writers and workshop instructors. I read it as a white American reader with the vaguest inclination toward maybe writing something someday. I expect for writers and readers of color it could validate experiences of forced conformity and gaslighting by the (white) Western literary community; for me, it cracked open my understanding of craft. Rather than plod through a detailed description, I thought I would illustrate how the book can inform the expectations of a reader steeped in white Western notions of craft. There is a fantastic novel by a Black author from a few years ago. (You probably read it.) I loved the book—the author is now a favorite—but I was disappointed by the ending, which relies on a coincidental family reunion to wrap up the plot. I have internalized the idea that a deus ex machina is a neat trope designed to force resolution—though the author had already proven eminently capable of driving the plot without relying on cliches and I have spent years deliberately diversifying my reading life. Salesses writes: “In the tradition of African American fiction … coincidence plots and reunion plots are normal. People of color often need coincidence in order to reunite with their kin.” Those lines forced an immediate confrontation of my biases and my expectations around what constitutes “good” plotting. Does this mean every coincidence is good writing? No. It means I need to analyze the source of my values and continue to develop my understanding of other cultures’ literary conventions and storytelling traditions. In other words, this is a mind-expanding book that I think could benefit anyone who engages with writing as craft.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rachael Jordan

    Incredible book. With this plus The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, I've been totally changing the way I'm teaching my introduction to creative writing class this semester. Incredible book. With this plus The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop, I've been totally changing the way I'm teaching my introduction to creative writing class this semester.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    I read this book from a reader perspective rather than as the audience of writers and writing teachers that Salesses directly addresses, but still found his points incredibly thought provoking. As readers we often stress the importance of diversifying our reads, seeking Own Voices representation, but Salesses cracks open the curtain behind the standards of professional writing workshops to show exactly how old standards of conducting workshops and measuring fiction do not allow for alternative s I read this book from a reader perspective rather than as the audience of writers and writing teachers that Salesses directly addresses, but still found his points incredibly thought provoking. As readers we often stress the importance of diversifying our reads, seeking Own Voices representation, but Salesses cracks open the curtain behind the standards of professional writing workshops to show exactly how old standards of conducting workshops and measuring fiction do not allow for alternative storytelling and can stifle writers’ voices. We can’t advocate for a different product by applying the same old (white) standards of fiction and call it objective and universal. Similarly, forcing a writer to write for a specific audience also undermines the work and places a cultural colonization on the process and the result. It challenged me to be a more thoughtful reader in identifying why something may not click with me when I read and why issues of character “relatability” have no place in a discussion of a work’s merit. If I was a writer I would probably find the whole book exceedingly useful, but as it is his more direct application and suggestion on how to conduct workshops was less applicable to me as a reader. I so appreciate having read this though and can see myself returning to flip through this time and time again.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    I GIVE THIS BOOK ALL THE STARS IMAGINABLE. This is a necessary new-world handbook on craft, a tonic and corrective to the dusty classics that didn't acknowledge human experience as a wide and varied thing. This is an empathic, detailed, and profoundly useful book for writers and writing teachers. It shows where we have gone astray and been led astray before, by ourselves, and others. It shines light on the many better, but less well-trod paths forward and out of the punishing, insular past of th I GIVE THIS BOOK ALL THE STARS IMAGINABLE. This is a necessary new-world handbook on craft, a tonic and corrective to the dusty classics that didn't acknowledge human experience as a wide and varied thing. This is an empathic, detailed, and profoundly useful book for writers and writing teachers. It shows where we have gone astray and been led astray before, by ourselves, and others. It shines light on the many better, but less well-trod paths forward and out of the punishing, insular past of the historical colonized writing workshop. It also offers many and various revision methods for a writer working on their own. Salesses provides numerous illustrative examples of what doesn't work and a variety of possibilities for things that might work better. This book opens up a vast potential future for the writing world that is more supportive, inclusive, and creative than what has gone before.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    Must-read for all writers and all secondary/post-secondary English teachers.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    Should be required reading for anyone teaching a writing workshop.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Craft in the Real World is the book I wish I had during my MFA program and I’m so happy it exists. Salesses challenges “traditional” notions of the craft of writing and asserts that craft is deeply informed by our cultural contexts. Craft works best then, when the writer and reader share these contexts. This critiques of work coming from those who don’t share them—which happens so often in writing workshops and reviews (shoutout #ownvoices)—provides limiting feedback about what writing should be Craft in the Real World is the book I wish I had during my MFA program and I’m so happy it exists. Salesses challenges “traditional” notions of the craft of writing and asserts that craft is deeply informed by our cultural contexts. Craft works best then, when the writer and reader share these contexts. This critiques of work coming from those who don’t share them—which happens so often in writing workshops and reviews (shoutout #ownvoices)—provides limiting feedback about what writing should be. In this way, Salesses breaks down the power dynamics in writing: “Craft is the history of which kinds of stories have typically held power—and for whom—so it is also the history of which stories have typically been omitted” (19). Addressing the creative writing workshop, Salesses points out that the “gag rule” of the typical writing workshop prevents writers from understanding each other’s contexts, perpetuating these untrue notions of craft as static skills that are applicable to all writing. Salesses extends this with a chapter redefining craft terms— pages I can not wait to get into the hands of my students.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    I think this book is a solid introduction for rethinking the 'traditional' workshop. As someone who will teach for the first time later this year, the second half of the book, with its varied pedagogical examples and practical advice, seemed the most useful: I will definitely be going back to that section. Yet as a writer whose creative and scholarly work encompasses comparative literature, postcolonial theory, critical race theory etc. I was a bit disappointed by the first half of the book. For I think this book is a solid introduction for rethinking the 'traditional' workshop. As someone who will teach for the first time later this year, the second half of the book, with its varied pedagogical examples and practical advice, seemed the most useful: I will definitely be going back to that section. Yet as a writer whose creative and scholarly work encompasses comparative literature, postcolonial theory, critical race theory etc. I was a bit disappointed by the first half of the book. For example, I felt some of the generalisations between Eastern vs. Western literature were so vague and, at worse, reinforced the essentialism the book is trying to disavow. Maybe, in a perverse way, this book isn't really for me, since I am lucky enough to be in a 'diverse' MFA environment where we often talk about all these issues, but I guess I was hoping for some sturdier insights into the comparative work being done here. Ultimately, I see this book as a text I will reference and excerpt for students who have little creative writing experience.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I’ve spent a bit of time pondering what hasn’t worked for me in certain workshop models and why a belated introduction to a loose and wonderful community of fic writers resulted in the sale of more stories (to better markets) and a stronger attention to craft. Part of the answer lies here. Salesses doesn’t waste time lambasting the silent method as the creation of white men (although it is), but he does discuss how power dynamics and audience expectations can and do stifle voice, especially if y I’ve spent a bit of time pondering what hasn’t worked for me in certain workshop models and why a belated introduction to a loose and wonderful community of fic writers resulted in the sale of more stories (to better markets) and a stronger attention to craft. Part of the answer lies here. Salesses doesn’t waste time lambasting the silent method as the creation of white men (although it is), but he does discuss how power dynamics and audience expectations can and do stifle voice, especially if you’re PoC or queer. At a recent webinar, he also pointed how debate privileges the speaker in the workshop far more than the writer, and how it might not be all that productive to sit in silence while the more assertive members of a group vie for dominance. In short, this book was long in coming and made me reconsider how I approach story both as a writer and a reader. Bonus: There is a generous list of genuinely useful writing and revision exercises in the back.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I absolutely loved this book. It clarified some of the equitable practices I have been using in workshops and explained to me WHY, a surreal experience to have— it felt like at points Salesses knew better my intentions than I do myself. At other points I learned pedagogy I never would have encountered organically (well, I chose to buy this book...) and can put those DEI strategies to work immediately. I’ve been updating assignments and notes for classes as I read, and have found this a practical I absolutely loved this book. It clarified some of the equitable practices I have been using in workshops and explained to me WHY, a surreal experience to have— it felt like at points Salesses knew better my intentions than I do myself. At other points I learned pedagogy I never would have encountered organically (well, I chose to buy this book...) and can put those DEI strategies to work immediately. I’ve been updating assignments and notes for classes as I read, and have found this a practical tool. Recommended reading not just for those teaching workshop, but for writers themselves to better understand the importance of audience.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Treesh

    didnt realize today would be a "read-about-literary-imperialism" day, but here we are. some fav quotes: - "craft expressed artistic and social values that could be weaponized against the threat of communism. craft is part of the history of western empire that goes back even to the ancient greek and roman empires, upon which american democratic values are based" - "the spread of craft starts to feel and work like colonization" - "the iowa writers' workshop...made literature easy to fundraise for, a didnt realize today would be a "read-about-literary-imperialism" day, but here we are. some fav quotes: - "craft expressed artistic and social values that could be weaponized against the threat of communism. craft is part of the history of western empire that goes back even to the ancient greek and roman empires, upon which american democratic values are based" - "the spread of craft starts to feel and work like colonization" - "the iowa writers' workshop...made literature easy to fundraise for, and easy to teach"

  22. 4 out of 5

    Meg (fairy.bookmother)

    This is a book about craft that has crossover appeal because this is not just for educators; it will make you a better writer and a better reader by considering why fiction does what it does and what can be done to make writing and reading more inclusive. Many thanks to Catapult Books for a review copy!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Emily Stone

    A must read if you write or teach writing Especially if you sat through many painful MFA critiques listening to straight white cis men didactically extol the glory of the white male personal myth and spew reductionist BS about women’s fiction.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    Should be a required text for any English class/writing workshop.

  25. 5 out of 5

    steve

    Workshop Changes Some of this, I'm happy to report, I already teach. And most of this I already at the least was thinking around the edges of. All of it has profoundly reshaped the way I think about workshop. Fall semester my intro to creative writing, there will be drastic, scary changes. And that is exciting to me. Workshop Changes Some of this, I'm happy to report, I already teach. And most of this I already at the least was thinking around the edges of. All of it has profoundly reshaped the way I think about workshop. Fall semester my intro to creative writing, there will be drastic, scary changes. And that is exciting to me.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    This book has given me the courage to continue writing about/from my Asian cultures. There’s no such thing as “just craft” – rather, there are many crafts.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    This is one of my top books of the decade, period. I will be revisiting this so many times as I continue writing and revising and thinking of the ways we consider craft. Simply excellent!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Mockler

    An excellent book that offers a guide to what I hope will become standard in writing workshop delivery.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Raksha Vasudevan

    An essential text for all writers and instructors. Though the subtitle specifies this book is meant for fiction, I found it useful even as a nonfiction writer. I wish I'd had it years ago, when I started writing and workshopping. I've long heard my favorite critics discuss evaluating a book according to its own goals and terms, but never quite understood what that meant. Salesses beautifully demystifies this question by pointing over and over again (without being redundant or pedantic) to the ce An essential text for all writers and instructors. Though the subtitle specifies this book is meant for fiction, I found it useful even as a nonfiction writer. I wish I'd had it years ago, when I started writing and workshopping. I've long heard my favorite critics discuss evaluating a book according to its own goals and terms, but never quite understood what that meant. Salesses beautifully demystifies this question by pointing over and over again (without being redundant or pedantic) to the centrality of the INTENDED audience (vs. workshop audience). According to him, every craft decision comes down to this element, which makes so much sense that I'm shocked it's not more widely known and discussed. I also really appreciated his thoughtful discussion of what workshop should and can do, and what it absolutely shouldn't. I will be thinking about his advice in every workshop I'm in going forward. Written in clear and accessible language, supplemented with loads of practical examples and exercises. Highly recommend.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Mandatory canon for all future MFA programs and BIPOC writers. This will change the narrative for fiction in a positive and enlightening way. Matthew has a gift.

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