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Write Not What You Know, but What You Want to Figure Out

RALEIGH—At the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2021 Fall Conference, November 19-21, at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Durham/RTP, Karen Tucker will lead the session “Conjuring Magic in Fiction.”

Conference registration is open.

Karen Tucker is the author of the novel Bewilderness (2021). Her short fiction can be found in The Missouri Review, The Yale Review, Tin House, Boulevard, Epoch, and elsewhere. Born and raised in North Carolina, she earned her Ph.D in English and Creative Writing from Florida State University, and currently teaches fiction writing at UNC-Chapel Hill.

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.

“The expression ‘write what you know’ is one of those enduring bits of wisdom that probably every writer has encountered at some point in their literary travels, and it persists for a reason: it works,” Karen says. “For me though, a more useful and certainly more compelling approach is to write not what I already know, but what I want to figure out. James Baldwin put it best when he said, ‘The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway.’ Write what you know, sure––but also write toward what you dare to discover. How can we hope to surprise readers with our stories if we have not surprised ourselves along the way?”

In her essay “The Site of Memory,” Toni Morrison says, “If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic.” Together in the class “Conjuring Magic in Fiction,” we’ll explore multiple passages and passageways to help us find the hidden magic lurking in even the most mundane of objects and characters. Craft topics include transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, vanishing acts, the reverse trick of rendering the invisible visible, and other illusions. Participants can expect published examples to read and discuss, guided free-writes, and props from a magic bag.

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. Other fictiom sessions include “How to Give Your Characters Voice” with Barbara Claypole White and the multigenre classes “Getting Back into the Writing Groove” with Heather Bell Adams (sponsored by and “Adaptation” with Daniel Wallace.

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