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Ayad Akhtar Shares Advice for Writers at URI Ocean State Summer Writing Conference

author writer ayad akhtar

What a treat to attend the University of Rhode Island’s Ocean State Summer Writing Conference as both participant and panelist this past week! Dr. Mary Cappello’s moving introduction of the first keynote speaker, Pulitzer Prize Winning Playwright and Novelist Ayad Akhtar, included a twenty-year-old piece of homework she had saved from when Ayad had been her student at URI.

She’d been moved by the depth of his work diagramming a poem–in far more depth than the assignment had called for.  Akhtar’s advice for writers included:

Write Every Day: Find a word count to live by. Akhtar pointed out that Victor Hugo had his servant push an armoire in front of his bedroom door so he couldn’t leave his writing desk.

Write Toward the Unknown: It’s always struck me as well that we do our best writing when we discover something new ourselves and don’t just stick comfortably with what we already known.  In Akhtar’s words, “Write about it in a way that there is a question you have not answered.” He also suggested to, “find what your perspective is and move towards the opposite. Along the way you’ll discover something.”

Show Your Work: Use discernment in deciding who to show it to, so you’ll get useful feedback. “Find trusted readers.”

american dervish book

Persevere: Akhtar shared the vicissitudes of his career  and the commitment it took to persevere when faced with the earlier limitations of his writing. After all, it takes time to write at a Pulitzer Prize level–and some of that early writing may not be so hot. Keep writing.

Akhtar’s reading from American Dervish inspired me to buy a signed copy, which I’m very much looking forward to reading this weekend. Perhaps I’ll hear the author’s voice in my head as I read.



Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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