Megan Giddings Thinks the Most Frustrating Part of Your Story May Be the Best

Ten questions about teaching writing with the author of "Lakewood"

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In our series “Can Writing Be Taught?” we partner with Catapult to ask their course instructors all our burning questions about the process of teaching writing. This month we’re talking to Megan Giddings, author of Lakewood, who is teaching an upcoming six-week workshop on creating characters in fiction. We asked Giddings our standard ten questions, and she talked to us about learning from thorny problems, drinking seltzer as a treat, and figuring out how to write even when nobody’s paying attention.


What’s the best thing you’ve ever gotten out of a writing class or workshop as a student? 

I learned that often when people keep talking about the same thing in a story and try to diagnose what’s wrong with it, that’s usually the most alive part. You might have to alter how it’s written, but it’s probably the thing the story needs to actually be worth reading. 

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever gotten out of a writing class or workshop as a student? 

I had an instructor tell me that she didn’t think “I had it” and I should think seriously about maybe switching from fiction to poetry. If I had been a younger writer, it probably would’ve killed my writing for a long time to have someone in authority say that to me.

What is the lesson or piece of writing advice you return to most as an instructor? 

Learn to love specificity. 

Does everyone “have a novel in them”? 

Yes. 

Would you ever encourage a student to give up writing? Under what circumstances? 

There’s a big difference between writing because you love it and writing because you want money, attention, praise.

I wouldn’t ever encourage a student to give up writing, but I would point them toward learning how to write without getting attention. There’s a big difference between writing because you love it and the process and writing because you want money, attention, praise. The latter will only hurt you throughout your career. Writing and knowing it might just be for you and learning to be fine with that is important. 

What’s more valuable in a workshop, praise or criticism? 

Neither. A good question is the most valuable thing you can take from a workshop.

Should students write with publication in mind? Why or why not? 

Students shouldn’t draft with publication in mind, but when they’re at a point where they’re making a serious revision, they should start thinking about readers. Drafting with publication in mind will often kill creativity. 

In one or two sentences, what’s your opinion of these writing maxims?

  • Kill your darlings: It feels more like something that should be on a t-shirt than something that actually helps most writers.
  • Show don’t tell: Depends on the point of view you’re writing! 
  • Write what you know: I think the better advice would be write what you emotionally know. In like 75% of circumstances, you can do research. 
  • Character is plot: I’m not mad at it. I think complexity of self is the plot of an average day, so why be against it in fiction?

What’s the best hobby for writers?  

Anything that makes you regularly fail and fail, so that the process of writing and revising and sending out doesn’t feel so frustrating.

What’s the best workshop snack? 

As an instructor, I just drink seltzer water because I am old enough to sometimes think of things like that as a nice treat. But when I was a student, it would be a baked good someone else in the workshop made and plunked in the middle of the table. 

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