Craft in the Real World

A groundbreaking resource for fiction writers, teachers, and students, this manifesto and practical guide challenges current models of craft and the writing workshop by showing how they fail marginalized writers, and how cultural expectations inform storytelling.

The traditional writing workshop was established with white male writers in mind; what we call craft is informed by their cultural values. In this bold and original examination of elements of writing–including plot, character, conflict, structure, and believability–and aspects of workshop–including the silenced writer and the imagined reader– Matthew Salesses asks questions to invigorate these familiar concepts. He upends Western notions of how a story must progress. How can we rethink craft, and the teaching of it, to better reach writers with diverse backgrounds? How can we invite diverse storytelling traditions into literary spaces? 

Drawing from examples including One Thousand and One Nights, Curious George, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and the Asian American classic No-No Boy, Salesses asks us to reimagine craft and the workshop. In the pages of exercises included here, teachers will find suggestions for building syllabi, grading, and introducing new methods to the classroom; students will find revision and editing guidance, as well as a new lens for reading their work. Salesses shows that we need to interrogate the lack of diversity at the core of published fiction: how we teach and write it. After all, as he reminds us, “When we write fiction, we write the world.”

Best Book of the Year, Esquire

Most Anticipated, The Millions

Most Anticipated, The Rumpus

“Salesses is clearly a generous instructor, willing to share ideas for syllabus design, grading techniques and writing exercises. He brings to this work many years of experience as a writer and professor, along with palpable frustration at what he has witnessed or endured in these roles . . . Craft in the Real World is a significant contribution to discussions of the art of fiction and a necessary challenge to received views about whose stories are told, how they are told and for whom they are intended.” —Laila Lalami, The New York Times Book Review 

“Amazing. Challenging. A total reimagining of craft. A must read for every writer.” – Roxane Gay

“A real eye opener . . . It unpacks the seemingly ‘universal’ lessons we learn about what makes fiction good to reveal how whiteness and maleness have shaped those values.” —Kumari Devarajan, Code Switch, NPR  

“In this firmament-shattering examination of how we teach creative writing, Salesses, a novelist and professor, builds a persuasive argument for tearing up the rulebook. Tracing the traditional writing workshop to its roots in white, male cultural values, Salesses challenges received wisdom about the benchmarks of ‘good’ fiction, arguing that we must reimagine how we write and how we teach. Only then will our canon and our classrooms be the inclusive, expansive spaces we want them to be.” —Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire

“A call for revolution . . . For those interested in teaching creative writing, particularly through an anti-racist lens, Salesses provides not only the what and the why but the how. His book is a compendium of essays, enumerated thoughts on craft, a glossary of redefined craft terms, a catalogue of alternative workshop models, sample syllabus language, writing and revision exercises, and other forms—the full generosity of an experienced teacher saying, ‘Here, you’re welcome to everything I have.'” —Keri Bertino, BOMB

“An analytic investigation into the racialized history of craft and the ways BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other underrepresented voices are erased in creative writing workshops . . . An essential read to any writer or creative writing instructor, regardless of genre . . . Craft in the Real World feels like a literary microcosm for the current global state of affairs. There is the sensation that readers are at once learning and unlearning, doing and undoing . . . It encourages writers, readers, and teachers to get uncomfortable in order to create more inclusive realities.” —Candace Eros Diaz, CRAFT 

“The world has changed, and the writing workshop must catch up. An essential addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in creative writing, Salesses’ text provides a compassionate approach sure to bring a new generation of authentic voices to the page.” —BookPage (starred review)

“This book is a stunning conflagration, and I wish I had it with me for the past twenty plus years of navigating writing workshops, both as student and teacher. It is a blueprint for a way forward to build better writing programs, and thus a new kind of writer and teacher who can imagine beyond a structure that often hurt them and left them in need of repair . . . Salesses has offered both a torch to light the fire, and a safe path to the new world that we can now start to build.” —Neelanjana Banerjee, The Millions 

“Brilliant. Essential. This book will—and should—change creative writing workshops forever.” —Joy Castro, author of Hell or High Water

Craft in the Real World is an instant essential book. Every writer, every writing teacher, every critic, every reviewer, anyone interested in how language works needs to read this. Now.” —Beth Nguyen, author of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

“This is exactly the book we need right now . . . I will recommend Craft in the Real World to every writer and teacher I know.” —Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks

“Astounding in its research and the case it makes for craft, Craft in the Real World asks writers and teachers of writing to claim our place as conscious participants in and makers of culture.” —Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning

“A tremendous resource for anyone hoping to write fiction or teach fiction writing . . . To have all this pedagogical brilliance and thoughtfulness in one book is a gift.” —Jennine Capó Crucet, author of My Time Among the Whites

“With empathy and keen insight, Matthew Salesses delivers an unflinching critique of the pedagogy of creative writing’s old guard—and models a way of studying and communicating craft that is self-aware, socially engaged, and thrillingly alive.” —Alexandra Kleeman, author of Intimations

Craft in the Real World is required reading for writers, writing teachers, and everyone who loves language and what it can accomplish in our beautiful, complicated world.” —Megan Stielstra, author of The Wrong Way to Save Your Life