The Saturday Writing Quote — Becoming a Mapbuilder

“Every writer has those stories and books that make you want to cry uncle, that convince you that the stories you want to tell have been told before, and better. I was only halfway through Stuart Dybek’s I Sailed with Magellan when I decided I should just give up on writing altogether; that the intimacy he achieves with childhood and adolescence was more than I could ever imagine accomplishing, and I wanted to leave it to him, a far more lyric, braver writer than I would ever be.

“At these humbling moments, I remember advice I received from Dan Chaon while studying fiction at Oberlin. At the end of a semester, he wrote to me: “There’s a very specific world that only you can write about, a map that only you can make. This is your book: think about the highways, cities, rivers, state lines that you want to add to your atlas, the people you’d like to be, the situations that draw you in, that scare you and compel you.” This way of thinking about our jobs as writers, as mapbuilders, was my first step toward finding my voice, toward gathering the themes that underpin my most successful work.”

— essayist and story writer Danielle Lazarin, in the Glimmer Train bulletin

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