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The Imperfect Writing Life

At AWP16 in Los Angeles in March, I went to a fabulous panel called The Imperfect Writing Life with Samantha Dunn moderating and Andre DeBus III (author of House of Sand and Fog and Townie), Carol Edgarian (author of Rise the Euphrates and Three Stages of Amazement), Neil Thompson (director of publishing at Amazon) and Sunil Yapa (author of Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist) as panelists. The panel was so inspiring I wanted to sneak away to start writing the minute it ended. Here’s what they had to say:

Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles












Andre DeBus III

“All our lives are imperfect. It’s a big goddam mess and we’re all doing the best we know how.”

“It’s a beautiful and rich life.”

“The great and neglected novelist Thomas Williams said, “I write so I don’t die before I’m dead.”

“Not only is 20 minutes a day bearable. Sometimes it’s ideal….Give that blood to the baby. You’ll have a baby one day.”

“What I have been merciless about…I haven’t watched TV in 30 years….I’ve never texted…I’ve never been on Facebook…I’ve never been on Twotter (sic)…I read a Fitzgerald novel instead.”  

“Sincerity is never having an idea of oneself….Our jobs as writers is to look outward. How can we do that if we have one eye on the mirror to see what we look like?”

“Your job is to write it and they (publishers) can back the hell off. Your job is to write it, and your time is short.”

“There’s a quote I love by Isak Dinesen: ‘I write every day without hope and without prayer.’”

“A day writing badly was ten times better than a day I didn’t write.”

“You must be merciless in stealing your daily time.”

“This culture demands that you apologize for your artistic talent until you’re successful.”  

“It’s important to learn to swim in long stretches of water without coming up.”

“I’m a people-loving man, but I need solitude.”

Quoting his third-grade-educated grandfather: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

In reference to raising children: “I know it feels like you’re dying when you’re not writing, but these years will be over so fast you’ll be heartbroken.”

“A day writing badly was ten times better than a day I didn’t write.”

“You must be merciless in stealing your daily time.”


The Nickel Diner in Downtown LA















Carol Edgarian

“Publishing…is the worst part. The glory is when you’re alone in your room and you’re working on a story and it’s growing and it has all kinds of problems, but they’re your problems.”

“Time is always the thing…So much of it is the dailyness. You don’t wait for the muse to land on your shoulder. You’ve got an hour, so you say, ‘Here I go.’”

“Social media is the last thing I do.”

“Don’t be someone you’re not. If you’re quippy, great, go for it. I’m not quippy.”

“So many of the manuscripts that jump off the page are the ones with lots of life jumping out of them…sometimes they’re quirky…”

“It’s a long apprenticeship. It’s not any different from picking up a violin and saying, ‘My goal is Lincoln Center.’”


The AWP16 Book Fair
















Sunil Yapa

 “There’s still an enormous amount of insecurity and uncertainty built into any artist’s life.”

“Publishing a book and then going on book tour… there’s some kind of deep emotional exhaustion that happens.”

“I think we might overemphasize the self-promotion on Facebook. I’m not sure how much it really does in the end. I’m not sure the time spent (is worth it.)”

“I wrote and was only able to write in huge chunks of uninterrupted time.”

“I won a residency on a lonely island in Greece where there were more sheep than people, and I got a LOT done.”

“I think of writing as a spiritual mission that needs discipline.”

Something Colm Toibin said during (Yapa’s) MFA: “I can teach you passion….I can’t teach you plot. I can’t teach you character. You have to figure that out on your own.”

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