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.”

“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