The Atlantic

The Best Writing Advice of 2016

Highlights from 12 months of interviews with writers about their craft and the authors they love
Source: Zak Bickel / Katie Martin / Paul Spella / The Atlantic

2016 was not an easy year to be a writer. Not just because of the constant, concentration-wrecking pull of our devices, their glowing screens beckoning with the promise of fresh horrors. I’ve spoken with many writers, in recent months, who seem to be facing a deeper, starker crisis of purpose since the election of Donald Trump. They’re asking themselves: Is making literature an acceptable pursuit in a world with such urgent, tangible needs? And if so, how should I use my words?

It’s a deeply personal line of questioning, and I can’t supply any answers here—I’m still working things out for myself. (I will recommend Bob Shacochis’s 2013 essay for this series, though, which articulates some of the key things to consider.) But I will say this: After interviewing 15 writers for “By Heart” in 2016, I’m more convinced than ever that their creative work is worthwhile. Even during chaotic times. Maybe especially then.

For the past three years (see 2013, 2014, and 2015), I’ve compiled the best writing advice from this series. In 2016, as in the past, authors shared some great insights—Alice Mattison explained how to structure a short story without a traditional plot, for instance, while Ethan Canin unpacked the art of the last line. But the bulk of the advice writers offered this year was not about “craft,” so much, as about the work of becoming a

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min read
Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s Quarterback Double Standard
As the league looks to the future, the way many analysts talk about black players such as the Baltimore Ravens passer still belongs to an ugly past.
The Atlantic24 min readPolitics
The 2020 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet
Bill de Blasio was out in front of the Democratic Party’s leftward shift—but then other candidates left him far behind.
The Atlantic3 min read
Blink-182’s Secret Seriousness
Nine, the new album from Blink-182, a band forever associated with adolescence even though the members’ mean age is now 44, arrives haloed in that great teenage emotion: embarrassment. This summer they kicked off a tour with Lil Wayne, and the hope t