Cover Photo: This photograph is of a classroom of students, most of them sitting at desks and taking notes, with one woman standing up as if talking to a teacher, holding her notebooks to her chest. She has a smile on her face.
Photograph by Javier Trueba/Unsplash

The Intimacy of Teaching Creative Writing

Enjoy this conversation between Lynn Steger Strong and Laura Spence-Ash and read novel excerpts from her 12-Month Generator students in this graduation showcase.

Old Enough

You teach in many different settings, but most of your teaching involves working with students for a semester. How does the year-long nature of the Catapult class affect your relationship to both the students and their work?

I was a member of the first cohort of this class, and the fourth cohort is about to begin. How has the class changed over time? What lessons did you learn from the earlier cohorts that you were able to put into action?

You teach for multiple universities and schools, you write novels and essays and reviews, you read seemingly everything, you run long distances, and you have two small children. What is your secret to doing everything you do?

How has teaching this class affected your own writing? What do you learn from your students?

You are a Catapult success story! Your first (brilliant) novel will be published in 2023! But like most success stories, yours is in large part one of extraordinary commitment and hard work (as well as incredible skill). Talk us through the life of your novel. What work had you put in before the novel generator, what sort of spur did the class provide, and how did you maintain momentum once class had ended?

One of the many things I admire about you is your incredible commitment to your colleagues and to a larger community of writers. How has community served your work over the years? What about the novel generator community more specifically?

Your feedback toward your colleagues and in craft conversations throughout our time together continually bowled me over. It is often the case that I learn so much about reading and writing from students, and I will always be grateful for everything I learned from you. How does thinking and talking about your colleagues’ work help you in your own? How is reading linked to your process of writing?

I often feel as though workshopping other people’s work is more beneficial for my own writing than when my work is being workshopped! I find I think more deeply about the craft in someone’s else work than I think about it in my own work, but I can then take the lessons learned and apply them to my fiction. I love writing critical essays about craft for exactly that reason: rarely do we get the opportunity to read slowly and really consider the craft choices that have been made. When I write about a story or a book, I have to slow down and think about how and why it’s successful. I also find that reading often opens up new possibilities for my own work. I just read a book that used the omniscient voice in a really interesting way, and now I’m wondering about whether that would work for my new project. I love how reading opens up so many new possibilities.

Lynn Steger Strong's first novel, Hold Still, was released by Liveright/WW Norton in March 2016. She received an MFA from Columbia University and her non-fiction has been published in Guernica, LARB,, Catapult, Lit Hub, and elsewhere. She teaches both fiction and non-fiction writing at Columbia University, Fairfield University, and the Pratt Institute. Lynn's second novel, Want, is forthcoming from Henry Holt in spring 2020.