The Writing Life

Qu Issue 12 – Summer 2020

Singing Your Own Voice by Hal Ackerman

THE SUMMER I WAS 19, I lived in Manhattan for the first time in my life. I worked two jobs as I aspired to write my first plays. I was a bellhop at a mid- town hotel and a waiter in a restaurant around the corner.  My weekend shifts at the hotel had me working sixteen hours straight and then going directly to the restaurant at 8 Monday morning. So one day a week I worked 24 hours straight. You’re 19.  You’ll sleep when you’re dead, right?  Plus you figure you might have a story to tell 50 years later. But something better happened on one of those Monday mornings. [Read More]

Qu Issue 11 – Winter 2020

On Listening, by Patricia Powell

I’ve been thinking about the community we create in workshop every week, coming together as strangers meeting for the first time, and undertaking the tasks of listening, of turning a critical eye to the work, of sharing ideas, inspiring each other and creating an environment that is nurturing and intellectually stimulating. I’ve also been thinking about what it would mean to intentionally bring some of these skills back to the places where we live and work and how they might effectively transform our relationships.[Read More]

Qu Issue 10 – Summer 2019

Stubbornness and Luck, by Marcus Jackson

At age 14, I wrote my first poem—an awful sequence of rhyming couplets that I originally began in a half-baked attempt to convince a schoolmate to leave the guy she was sleeping with and resume dating my bleak, virginal self. Aside from yielding a horrible poem, and aside from drawing no response at all from the former girlfriend whom I cherished, the writing and revision process, during the few days I labored over the ridiculous drafts, changed me permanently.[Read More]

Qu Issue 9 – Winter 2019

Loving Our Work and Letting it Go, by Rebecca McClanahan

One morning many years ago, I phoned a writer friend and asked if she would take a look at a manuscript I’d recently completed, one that I was particularly fond of. I guess you could call it a crush. Yes, I had a crush on my manuscript. (If you’re a writer, you probably know how this feels—the initial surge of passion, however incestuous, for your own work.) It’s a great feeling, but it passes. Especially after, say, three revisions, which is what the manuscript had survived. My friend is a tough but fair critic, and I knew she would give me an honest assessment. “Sure,” she said. “But I’ll be gone most of the day. Just drop it through the mail slot.”[Read More]

Qu Issue 8 – Summer 2018

What to Quarry, by James McKean

I’ve heard that writing well is less a function of how many words you know and more about how you use them. I’d like to add that, for me, it also has to do with the words I find. I’ve spent many years looking for the right words, poking around in books and attics, old Moon hot-rod catalogues or over the measuring table at the Jo Ann Fabric store. These explorations are based on the assumption I might discover words to help me fashion a text, as Annie Dillard says, for whatever fragmentary images or anecdotes or memories that surface for their own mysterious reasons.[Read More]

Qu Issue 7 – Winter 2018

Literary Activism and the Writing Life, by Patricia Powell

In a world fraught with political tensions and daily life and death matters, can our stories really make a difference?

I had never been to a protest until two years ago; I went with friends to the Occupy March in Oakland. For the longest time, I was afraid of going to jail or of being deported so I avoided marches and protests and basically very large crowds. Even after I became a US citizen, I was still very concerned about safety and deportation.[Read More]

Qu Issue 6 – Summer 2017

Along Stretches Of This River by Jon Pineda

We use words to build images. We put the words together in a particular order, and if we’re lucky, something happens other than the relaying of information. The reader takes those words and assembles and reassembles them in their mind. It’s the inseparable sensory experience we’re after (we being the writer and the reader). [Read More]

Qu Issue 5 – Winter 2017

Packing: Writing on the Move, by Ada Limón

It’s evening and I’m packing for an early morning flight to New York City. Tomorrow I’ll join a large reading focusing on love and hope (something I need more than ever these days), then I’ll host a reading celebrating the work of the writer Rigoberto Gonzalez. I’m used to travel. I can even say I like it. Though, packing always stresses me out. I never know what to wear or what to bring. But I manage to do it because, well, because I have to.[Read More]

Issue 4 – Summer 2016

How to Write a Novel in 6 Steps by Dana Spiotta

1. Don’t write what you know. Start with what you don’t know, what you don’t understand. Pay attention to what compels you, what bothers and truly fascinates you. 2. Start to write about specific people. [Read More]