Aspen Words Literary Prize Authors Confront Their Greatest Writing Challenges

January 17, 2019  • Aspen Words

Every writer faces challenges when they sit down to work. Even award-nominated authors struggle with issues like procrastination, self-doubt, and the nonsensical rules of the English language. When we asked Aspen Words Literary Prize nominees to share their experiences, things got personal.

Tayari Jones

American Marriage
My challenges as a writer are the same challenges I face as a citizen of a nation that seems to be becoming less just every day. Writing is where I make my greatest contribution and I struggle to figure out how I use what I have to turn the ship around. I don’t worry about politics overwhelming the artistry of my work; I worry more about writing a pretty paragraph that is of no help to anyone.

Will Mackin

Bring Out The Dog
My greatest challenge as a writer is overcoming my internal critic, thereby allowing myself to stumble before I can run.

David Chariandy

I wonder if my greatest challenge is at the level of the sentence. I’ve always hoped to find in the nuances of language new possibility for thought and feeling — new potential for life itself, even when (or especially when) the story I’m telling needs to confront untimely and unjust death. I’m always trying to re-calibrate narrative voice, to tune and re-tune each line, to find the right word, and to strip away all excess.

Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Heads of the Colored People
I hope it’s not cliché to say so, but I think my greatest challenge is myself. Like many people, I’ve internalized negative messages about writing and my abilities that can result in negative self-talk. Although I’ve learned strategies for disciplining myself and choosing to write even when I don’t feel inspired, I’m also battling some chronic health issues that can be debilitating. I’ve had to shift my self-talk toward kindness and acceptance, allowing myself days off and leeway when I need them. A writing life is already difficult enough; the last thing writers need is self-inflicted cruelty.

R.O. Kwon

The greatest challenge is also my greatest joy: the love of language. Words! Syllables! Punctuation! The English language is so pliable and rich and powerful, and it deeply frustrates and delights me every day.

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