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Meet the Teaching Artist: What is Voice in Fiction with Robert Anthony Siegel

by Writing Workshops Staff

A day ago


Meet the Teaching Artist: What is Voice in Fiction with Robert Anthony Siegel

by Writing Workshops Staff

A day ago


We're so happy to be working with acclaimed writer and teaching artist Robert Anthony Siegel, who is teaching a series of upcoming classes.

Robert is the author of a memoir, Criminals (Counterpoint) and two novels. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian Magazine, The Paris Review, The Drift, The Oxford American, and Ploughshares, and has been anthologized in Best American Essays 2023, O. Henry Stories 2014, and Pushcart Prize XXXVI.

Hi, Robert. Please introduce yourself to our audience.

Hello, writers! I've been teaching fiction and memoir for 25 years, mostly in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, but also at Tunghai University in Taiwan, and Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore. It's been wonderful working with students from many different cultures and many different backgrounds--learning from everyone along the way. I love teaching because I love reading and writing and want everyone to join in. I know how hard writing can be sometimes, and I'm convinced that good classes and good teachers can make it a lot easier to tell the story you need to tell.

What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft? Or is this just your jam and you love it?

Voice is one of those crucial yet extremely slippery concepts that we tend to use promiscuously in conversations about writing and yet have trouble defining. That leads me to want to stop and think a little more carefully about the question. The goal of this seminar is to highlight specific skills for creating voice that students can use in their own writing.

Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?

We’ll look at several examples of voice from great published stories, and then explore how to create a range of distinctive voices in our own writing through in-class exercises. One of the things I love about creative writing classes is the emphasis on active learning--learning by doing. So if you can join us, come ready to ask questions, to write, and if you feel like it, to share what you've written.

What was your first literary crush?

As a boy, I read War and Peace like an adventure story, completely mesmerized. After that, I went to the library and gobbled down all of Tolstoy in the exact same way--as if he were giving me the blueprint for life. It didn't matter to me that I'd never ridden a horse and had no idea what a mazurka was--or a muzhik. I recently reread "Master and Man" and the feeling came flooding back. It's always there, waiting.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Septology by the Norwegian novelist Jon Fosse. Absolutely fascinating.

How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?

I think I'm just like everybody else--following my hunches, sometimes getting it wrong, picking myself up and dusting myself off and moving on to the next thing. I try to remind myself to trust the process, remembering that I may have to get a little lost in order to find my way.

Where do you find inspiration?

Poetry reminds me of the power of language. Haiku in particular reminds me of the power of the image and the way it resonates through the white space around it--a way of thinking about showing and telling, text and subtext, speaking and silence.

What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?

When I was a student at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Frank Conroy, author of the groundbreaking memoir Stop-Time, used to always tell us not to be afraid of writing badly, because it's the bad writing that leads to the good writing. I try to remember this every time I sit down at the desk: bad writing is the seed of good writing. All writing leads us forward.

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

There are lots of great craft books out there, but let me recommend an entire series: The Paris Review Interviews. Great in-depth interviews with all the most interesting writers of the last 75 years--particularly revealing about the importance of process, how a deeply cultivated writing process leads to good writing.

Learn more about working with Robert:

You can learn more about Roberts's upcoming classes here and sign up now!

Instructor Robert Anthony Siegel is the author of a memoir, Criminals (Counterpoint,) and two novels. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian Magazine, The Paris Review, The Drift, The Oxford American, and Ploughshares, and has been anthologized in Best American Essays 2023, O. Henry Stories 2014, and Pushcart Prize XXXVI. He has been a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan, a Mombukagakusho Fellow in Japan, a Writing Fellow at FAWC in Provincetown, and a Paul Engle Fellow at the Iowa Writers Workshop. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop and a BA from Harvard.

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