m a r g i n a l i a

notes from a creative writing PhD candidate

margaret talbot on writing

Over a year ago, in April 2013, I had the opportunity to meet author Margaret Talbot.  Margaret, a staff writer at The New Yorker, gave me and a few other MFA candidates at George Mason University some of the best and most straightforward writing advice I’ve ever heard.  Below I share, transcribed from my journal, the notes I took during her visiting writer workshop.

  1. The best thing you can do is read.
  2. Read your own work out loud.
  3. Have an ending in mind.
  4. Access to the subject should play a large part in your topic.
  5. Pick topics with scenes where you are watching someone work/interact.
  6. Reporting and writing require two different approaches; anything could be part of the story—later. Take everything in, write everything down.
  7. In interviewing, begin with a question that they love and shows your knowledge about it (from your research). Being interviewed is boring.
  8. Learn the piece you can do the best, not necessarily an accepted genre.
  9. Timeliness is a huge part of getting published.
  10. Think about what your insider status is (culture/subculture) that you could be an eloquent informant about (i.e. your generation).
  11. End with an image
  12. Read: Telling True Stories

**I recommend Talbot’s The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century, a personal but extremely well-researched first book about her father Lyle’s fascinating rise from a Nebraska carnival employee to traveling magician’s assistant to famous Hollywood actor.



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