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Interview: Philip Lopate

Philip Lopate is the author of the iconic book, To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction, the editor of the pivotal anthology,The Art of the Personal Essay, and is widely celebrated as one of the premier essayists of our time. His latest book is A Year and a Day: An Experiment in Essays. It’s a great read.


What advice would you give to an unpublished 23 year-old? 

“My advice would be to keep writing, no matter what, and by all means keep reading, preferably at a high level (including the classics).  Ignore nay-sayers, and give yourself a lifetime to develop your craft.  Don't be in a hurry.  And don't quit your day job!”

I’ve realized I have a long way to go before I fully realize Philip Lopate’s words. Especially those about being in a hurry. 

For the past 8 months, I’ve been scrounging from one writing submission to the next without taking adequate time to revise. 

Because rushing had its benefits. 

It enabled me to ignore mistakes and focus on the product instead of the process. In an effort to write five pages a day, I overlooked the quality of my work. 

But the pile of rejection letters grew, and by the time Philip Lopate shared his insights, I knew it was time to listen. 

Slowing down was frustrating. 

It meant line editing, rewriting, reading rejections carefully and learning from them.

Not being in a hurry meant admitting that it might take a lifetime to become a great writer, if it ever happens at all. 

But as Philip Lopate also said, “I like the freedom that comes with lowered expectations.

While my work hasn’t become bestselling overnight, slowing down has made the process fun again. And that makes all the difference. 

Many thanks to Philip Lopate, and to all those who have helped me on this journey

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