Poets & Writers event– Part III: Why We Write

Why We Write panel
from left: Melissa Faliveno (assoc. ed. of P&W magazine), Wendy Lesser, Yiyun Li, Alejandro Murguia, D.A. Powell, Michelle Tea

The final panel of the day was titled “Why We Write,” which featured Wendy Lesser (author and founding editor of the Threepenny Review), novelist and MacArthur Fellow Yiyun Li, author and professor Alejandro Murguia, award-winning poet D.A. Powell, and novelist and memoirist Michelle Tea, who is also the founding editor of Mutha magazine.

Wendy Lesser, who had gone to college intending to be a city planner, gave this advice: “It’s easier to cut out the stupidity after your first draft than to write it all perfectly the first time.” She also stressed that structure is really important to start with while writing, but you have to be willing to change if necessary.

Yiyun Li was a scientist when she emigrated to Iowa City, where everyone she met was writing a novel. Once she discovered writing fiction, she loved it. She said, “I feel like I’m a boring person and my characters are interesting, so I can’t wait to be with them.”

Alejandro Murguia, who is the Poet Laureate of San Francisco, commented, “Structure is important, but so is discovery. My favorite writing surprises me.” He also offered this gem: “Reading to your lover is one of the sexiest things you can do.”

D.A. Powell finds writing “a suitable place to be irresponsible” and notes that it is “a place where you get to say what you wish you’d said in the moment.”

Michelle Tea considers writing a compulsion, although she admitted that as the mother of a two-month old baby, she worries that she may never write again. She believes in Anne Lamott’s idea of the “shitty first draft” and recommends that writers “barf a bunch out and clean it up later.”

I thought the most interesting comparison made was by Wendy Lesser, who said that writing was “like a serial killer: “the pressure builds and builds until you have to do it, and then you feel great.”

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