Saturday, October 22, 2016

Advice from Writers I’ve Mentored and Taught

In this blog I’m featuring advice from writers I’ve mentored when they were students or interns. I’m so proud of the many writers I’ve worked with over the years who have become excellent published authors in their own right.

Tara Ballard studied with me at University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). Her recent poems include “Unfinished Letter to Officer [Insert Name]” in HEArt Online. Tara’s advice:

Don’t try to dictate the direction of the poem as you are drafting. Examine your tendencies and habits. 

Kersten Christianson was a mentee at UAA. She is working on a chapbook, What Caught Raven’s Eye, through Petroglyph Press. Her creative manuscript Something Yet to Be Named will be published by Aldrich Press in July 2017.  Kersten’s advice:

Write what is most important to  you. Read globally, expand your literary citizenship.  

Allison DeLauer is a poet who also writes for performers. Allison studied with me at California College of the Arts (CCA). Her publications include the chapbook, Eve Out West; and a fascinating and witty poem called “The Neighbors Knew I Divined Water.” Her advice:

Spend time walking outdoors. Use the microphone on your phone to record your poem-thoughts, when walking. 

Makenzie DeVries is a poet who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, and studied with me at UAA. She’s been published in Duty Bound from the Alaska Humanities Forum. Her advice:

This is relevant to me these days, being the crazy busy person I have unfortunately become: make time to write, at least a couple days a week. Well—at least one day a week.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc was an intern for the Lunch Poems Reading Series at UC Berkeley when I was the coordinator there. His poems have recently been published in Field, jubilat, the Literary Review, and are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest. Gibson’s recommendations:

I’ve always been partial to Philip Levine's advice: “Fuck writer’s block. Lower your standards.” Levine was repeating advice from William Stafford, though he added the f-bomb for fun. It’s a reminder that I find I often need, and I repeat it to students (though I might substitute “forget” for the swear if they’re young). We have to be willing to write anything, even and maybe especially the terrible stuff, to get to what’s real and worth pursuing. 

Margaret Elysia Garcia was my student at University of San Francisco. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and plays—yes, and she’s good at all of them. Her audiobook, Mary of the Chance Encounters, was produced by Wretched Productions. recently collected 15,000 books for the school library in the town of Indian Valley, California, where she lives. See this news item. Her advice:

Take interest in and promote other writers. Too many writers—especially women writers—do not take themselves seriously. Own what it is you do and find the community that will support your voice. I used to try writing from home, but home can be invaded by other identities and other people. Now I write from my little office with another writer typing away upstairs and it has made all the difference.

Martha Grover was my mentee at CCA. She’s published two books of nonfiction: One More for the People and The End of My Career, both from Perfect Day Publishing. Her suggestion for writers:


One great piece of advice was given to me by my very first creative writing teacher, the poet Joseph Millar. He would often tell us to “put this poem in a drawer and take it out again in three to six months.” I think we often give up too easily on our writing, or edit it to death. The point is to let time pass and be able to look at the piece with fresh eyes. Good writing takes time. 

Andrea Hackbarth studied with me at UAA. Two recent poems of hers were published in Mezzo Cammin. Her advice:

Always read more than you write. Spend time reading and rereading the poets and other writers that you love. When you do write, aim for that kind of greatness.

Alice-Catherine Jennings also was a student in the UAA program. She recently published a chapbook: Katherine of Aragon A Collection of Poems. Alice suggests:

Study another language. It will increase your vocabulary, shake up your syntax, and change the way you think.

Mandy Kahn was an intern in the Lunch Poems Series at UC Berkeley when I was the coordinator there. Mandy’s numerous publications include the critically acclaimed poetry collection Math, Heaven, Time and a wise and thoughtful blog, “Thirteen Thoughts on Poetry in the Digital Age,” in the Huffington Post. Her advice:

Love the making process and all you make will carry love.

Laura LeHew was a student of mine at CCA. Her books of poetry include Becoming from Another New Calligraphy and Willingly Would I Burn from MoonPath Press.

My advice to writers is to be an entrepreneur. Writing is your business. If you are not writing you should be submitting and if you are not submitting you should be writing. Rejection happens, don’t take it personally. Network, join a professional organization like the AWP or your local or state association. Network with the people who run reading series. Start a reading series. Volunteer and/or intern. Start a blog. Join Facebook. Have your own website. Collaborate with other writers on interesting projects. Run and/or participate in critique groups. Give a workshop. Teach. Align yourself with a good mentor and then pay it back by mentoring others.

Myron Michael is a poet and essayist who studied with me at CCA. He won the Eastern Iowa Review’s experimental essay award. His advice:

Make time to write. All of the good things.

Rheea Mukherjee, who studied with me at CCA, just published an engaging first book of short stories, Transit for Beginners, from Kitaab International in Singapore. Rheea lives in Bangalore, India. Her advice:

It’s an essential time for writers to explore “the other”—mentally, physically, spiritually, and politically. Stepping into the shoes of the unknown and writing from that perspective can bring new potential and purpose to writing and its place in our world. 

Mae Remme studied with me at UAA. Her recent works include a powerful prose poem, “Bloody Marys,” in Tethered by Letters. Mae’s advice:

When inspiration hits, even if the timing isn't right to sit and put it all on paper (or screen) take note. I have too often thought I would never forget an idea only to later lose the line, image, or revision. And one of the many things Zack advised that stuck was even if a revision comes to mind after you submit or publish a piece, still make the revision for future opportunities.  

Lisa Stice was my mentee at UAA. Her first book of poems, Uniform, from Aldrich Press, deals with the moving experiences of the wife of a U.S. Marine. Her advice:

Don’t give up on writing or submitting. There’s going to be writer’s block. Push through and be open to what you need to write, instead of what you want to write. There will be rejection. Once you find your niche as a writer, you’ll more easily find the journals and publishers that are right for your work.

Laura Wetherington was a Lunch Poems intern at UC Berkeley. Her book A Map Predetermined and Chance was selected for the National Poetry Series and published by Fence Books. Her advice:

Write everyday, even if just for five minutes. A daily practice keeps the creative pump primed.


I feel so lucky for all the amazing students I’ve worked with in my teaching and mentoring. I’m grateful that I’ve had the chance to keep the river running.—Zack

Other recent posts about writing topics: 

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