“Any story that's going to be any good is usually going to change.” This simple, almost simplistic, edict from Alice Munro is surprisingly hard to enforce. We write the first drafts of our stories blindly, open and malleable to any idea that pops into our heads—sure, why not have house fire—yet, paradoxically, the more drafts we produce, and the more clearly we begin to see our story, the more attached we grow to what we first put down by pure accident. We hold on to characters, POV, scenes, and plot, even as these elements no longer serve our larger vision. Revision becomes moving around the same faulty parts, tinkering instead of rebuilding from the ground up; our drafts never approach completion because they can’t quite stray from what’s not working.
This four-week online crash course will introduce you to “generative revision,” which focuses on producing new material in order to inform and shape the old. Instead of circling the same problems in our stories, you will leave them entirely behind and challenge what you’ve taken for granted about the original draft. All students will come into the course having already completed (or nearly completed) a short story, ideally one that you feel stuck on, but remain passionate about. In lieu of workshop, weekly writing exercises will push you to reimagine how the story might work (for example, enforcing a literal or metaphorical “ticking clock” on your story to pinpoint issues with tension and stakes). Craft pieces and lectures will supplement these exercises. We will also hold group discussions about the process and meet once individually over the phone or Skype. The work you generate by the end of the course won’t necessarily go into the final revision, but all of it will play a crucial role in pointing you toward a finished draft that advances your story’s fundamental truth. Because this class requires coming in with a drafted story and will involve thinking deeply about revision, it is best suited to writers with some previous workshop experience.
Lillian Li is the author of the novel Number One Chinese Restaurant, forthcoming from Henry Holt in June 2018. Her short fiction has been published in Guernica, Granta, Jezebel, and Glimmer Train, where she was the winner of the 2015 New Writer's Award. She received her BA from Princeton and her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was the recipient of a Hopwood Award in Short Fiction. (Author photograph by Margarita Corporan)
"In the workshop setting, not only is Lillian an idea person, but she's also just plain brilliant on the sentence level. As an editor, she has an uncanny ability to improve just about anything, regardless of the writer's style, genre, or personal voice. A testament to the fact that she reads every story on its own terms.”
"In my workshop Lillian Li proved an excellent presence - meticulously prepared, articulate and acute in her observations, consistently constructive in her commentary - quite simply one of the finest workshop critics it's been my pleasure to work with in 20 years of teaching. Our conversations outside of class, about her own fiction and published work (I was especially impressed by her sensitivity to issues of representation), reinforce my sense that she'd be a first rate teacher.”
“Lillian Li is a brilliant young writer and someone to watch. Her work understands human secrets generally as well as secret places both in the world and in the mind; her narratives are complex, mysterious, moving, and surprising.”
“I adored the vitality of this deviously charming and smart debut. Full of impassioned and ever-yearning characters, the novel practically thumps with heartache and sharp humor. The prose sparkles, too, with the rhythm and sting of exquisitely close observation and hard-earned wisdom, announcing Lillian Li as a striking new literary talent.”
"Lillian taught my first creative writing class, and the passion she displayed for short stories fueled my excitement for continuing my own writing. Her approach, to published as well as peer work, is both critical and encouraging; thanks to that, I was able to read more deeply using the analyzing techniques I learned. Her critiques on student work are thorough and individualized, offering solutions to problems in the writing and pushing me beyond perceived limitations.”
“A darkly comic novel about complicated families—those created by blood and those forged through circumstance. With wit and heart, Li explores a Chinese-American community torn between ambition and loyalty as each character strives for a world bigger than the restaurant that has bound them together. An exciting debut.”
“If a Chinese restaurant can be seen as a kind of cultural performance, Lillian Li takes us behind the scenes to offer a richly engrossing story of overlapping intrigues—commercial, generational, and romantic. She conjures the 'eco-system' of this workplace with insider acuity and renders her bustling, hustling clan of waiters, hostesses, cooks, and managers with brilliant feeling. NUMBER ONE CHINESE RESTAURANT is a vibrant, memorable debut.”