Breaking the Rules for Style

Switching perspectives in the close-third person—"She liked his voice" followed by "He didn't tell her…" a paragraph later—is generally thought of as a kind of crime in creative writing classes, and indeed many beginning students do it unwittingly. But Min Jin Lee does it so frequently—and deliberately, and gracefully—throughout this beautiful book that it becomes a kind of style.

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Accountability Institute, Season 3

A little over a year and a half ago, my friend Rachel and I did an interview together for Luna Luna about our partnership in accountability. Rachel lives in France; I live in New York. We are partners in accountability. We write emails back and forth between languages and time zones, to cheer each other on and hold ourselves accountable on our respective creative projects.

Read Rachel and my piece in Luna Luna here:

Read Rachel and my piece in Luna Luna here:

It's amazing how effective it has been for me to have a partner in accountability, particularly one as inspiring as Rachel. Over the course of maybe 200 emails, from November 2015 to today, we have kept track of our goals and accomplishments, small ("I want to email this person I know," "I organized my files") and large ("I'm planning on traveling to a refugee camp for research," "I sold my first book!"); concrete ("I assembled all these pieces into one portfolio," "I got a rug for my writing room!") and abstract ("I want to get through this mucky feeling," "I want to purify my language"). We have read each other's lists and encouraged each other, even if all we have time to write is, "Awesome! Way to go!" I really believe it's due in part to our correspondence that I ever finished my first book.

Still there have been long lapses between letters. Months have gone by with no accountability emails at all. But then one or the other of us will feel the need to share what we are up to, and we will pick up the thread again, or start a new one. Today we find ourselves in the first few episodes of Accountability Institute, Season 3. I like thinking about our project as happening in seasons, like a television show. Our characters have developed. New narrative threads have unfolded.

The simple act of writing to a dear friend about what I want to do makes me feel as if I can do it, which means I am far likelier toAnd yet sometimes I find it difficult to pick up that thread, or even to respond, although I want to. What is that about? Why would I avoid something that's so productive and enriching?

I guess it can be overwhelming to take stock of all the things I want to do. It can be embarrassing to realize that I've dropped the ball on this or that longterm goal. It can be frustrating to feel as if I haven't made any progress on something or other, frustrating to admit, "I'm stuck on this." 

There are ways of getting around those issues. I have to remind myself of them frequently. Here's what works for me: Separate tasks into bullet points. Keep each bullet short. Sort groups of bullets into three categories: Past (Accomplished), Present (Ongoing), and Future (To Do). Account for and celebrate even the tiniest victory. A project needn't be finished to be counted; it is enough to say, "I'm working on it." It's okay to keep a goal in Future (To Do) indefinitely.

This post is copied from my weekly Writing/Thinking Prompts newsletter. Subscribe at

I'm really proud of my newsletter, guys

I've been working really hard on my TinyLetter recently and it's been making me really happy. I have nearly 200 subscribers! Which doesn't actually sound like that much. But considering I don't really promote it or anything, I don't know. It feels good. Last week my grad school friend Ryan Teitman mentioned my TinyLetter in his own TinyLetter, and I got six new subscribers. Two of them were mutual friends/acquaintances of ours from Indiana University. It felt good to see some familiar names, and know that they're interested in what I've got to say. 

I feel like my TinyLetter is a good way for me to keep track of what I've been thinking about, and sort of turn my thoughts inside-out. It's also a good way to keep track of what I've been doing in my classes. Most weeks at least one or two people unsubscribe. But often I also get really good responses. Sometimes people write and say that a certain letter meant a lot to them, and it fills me with pleasure and conviction.

Check it out here:

About My Writing Prompts Newsletter

One of my newest projects is this weekly newsletter, through which I send out writing prompts. I started it as a way to offer prompts to students and former students, and I've been gaining subscribers, albeit slowly.

Recently, after the desperately dispiriting election, like so many artists I'd been trying to come up with ways I might engage more seriously with political resistance. Over the weekend I had a conversation with a friend about how freedom of speech and freedom of the press are integral to democracy. Today, after reading about the crackdown on the free press in Turkey, I posed this question to my newsletter subscribers: What would your own act of political resistance be? How, in a country without first amendment protection, would you be punished for it?

I have no real answers to the question of how artists today can or should join our national political conversation. But writing this prompt, though it was a very small act, felt like a start.