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Write Until You Reach the End: Mesha Maren

Mesha Maren
DURHAM—Mesha Maren, author of Sugar Run (Algonquin Books, 2019) and an assistant professor at Duke University, will lead the Fiction Master Class “Get Out Your Jungle Red Fingernails, or How to Write Your Way Off the Plateau of Mediocrity” at the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2021 Fall Conference, November 19-21, at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Durham/RTP.

Conference registration is open.

Mesha Maren is the author of Sugar Run (Algonquin Books, 2019) and Perpetual West (2022). Her work has appeared in the Oxford American, the Guardian, Tin House, the Southern Review, and elsewhere. She was the recipient of the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, an Elizabeth George Foundation grant, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation. She is an assistant professor at Duke University and also serves as a NEA Writing Fellow at the federal prison camp in Alderson, West Virginia.

This year, NCWN is asking authors for “one good piece of advice,” either something they were once told that they never forgot, or something they wished they could go back and tell their younger selves. Mesha says:

“My piece of advice is keep going until you reach the end for the first time! In the words of my former teacher and mentor Lauren Groff, “ride the wave.” When I was working on my first novel as a graduate student I kept doubting myself and stopping, turning around in the manuscript to look back and critique myself. Lauren Groff told me to move forward at all costs and it was a great advice. It is important, especially when writing a novel, to build moment and get an idea of the scope of the entire project before doing line edits. Ride the wave to the end and then turn around and start editing!”

In “Get Out Your Jungle Red Fingernails, or How to Write Your Way Off the Plateau of Mediocrity” we will explore constraint-based writing techniques that will help us to surprise our own selves with our writing, avenues towards that white-hot flame of risk that resides at the center of all great writing. We will look at prompts and constraints that writers such as Amy Hempel, Mary Robison, Gordon Lish, and Robert Stone have used to enliven their writing as well as a few original constraints that Mesha herself has developed, and we will talk about methods to help ourselves shake it up and use our hard-earned writing skills in brand new ways.

Writers who have participated in workshops for any extended length of time come to know, in an almost subliminal way, what other workshop participants are going to say about our work. We know the basics, of course, and could chant in our sleep: show don’t tell, use active language, Freytag’s triangle, sentences must work on more than one level! We also come to know the specifics of our teachers and peers: Professor X will question my use of poetic language or Professor Y will tell me I’m not starting the story in the right place. And we begin to realize what will be praised for. Professor Z loved my descriptions of pine trees, we think, so I’ll put some beautiful pine trees in my next story and hope that Professor A praises me too. And in this way we can, if we are not careful, become very comfortable with crafting our precious little pieces. We coast along the plateau of mediocrity, painstakingly writing our short stories just like Professor X taught us to. We are following Freytag’s model (or very carefully not following it), we are emulating the masters, we are following the advice of Professors X, Y and Z and we are hoping fervently that our piece will be praised at the workshop table. But are we writing the most blindingly brilliant and shatteringly original literature that we could possibly imagine? No, probably not. We are afraid of falling because we know how falling feels and finally now we are kind of not falling down all the time, but that is exactly when we must learn to get our own jungle red fingernails, stop being afraid and push ourselves to write wilder and deeper.

For more about Master Classes, and to apply, click here.

Fall Conference attracts hundreds of writers from around the country and provides a weekend full of activities that include lunch and dinner banquets with readings, keynotes, tracks in several genres, open mic sessions, and the opportunity for one-on-one manuscript critiques with editors or agents. North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green will give the Keynote Address. Additional Master Classes will be led by Tyree Daye (Poetry) and Marianne Gingher (Creative Nonfiction).

Register here.

The nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to all writers, in all genres, at all stages of development. For additional information, visit