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An Inside Track on the Writing Wrong Course

From January 9th - 16th, the application process will open for an upcoming workshop with Chuck Palahniuk in Portland, OR beginning on February 27th, 2017. For full details, head over to Attic Institute of Arts & Letters. Below are some tough-love guidelines for students applying for the course. Chuck wanted to give his people some special handling and tips for best result.


            If you’re a regular visitor to The Cult or to LitReactor and you plan to apply for admission to the Writing Wrong course I’ll be teaching, here’s an inside track.  The hosting venue, the Attic Institute in Portland, will begin taking applications on January 9th and cease taking them soon after.  Those submitted earliest will get the best read from me.  And once I’ve filled the sixteen slots, I won’t be looking any further.  That means:  Write well, and be ready to submit your application on the first day.  I will read them in the order they’re received.

            Brevity is crucial.  The limit for writing samples is 200 words, but if you only need 150 or 100, don’t go long.  The best jokes, the most profound anecdotes, these are usually short-short.  Shoot for that kind of power.  Do not, please, write your best imitation of my style, carefully parroting choruses or devices you think I’ll be thrilled to recognize.  Poor Tom Spanbauer, for almost 20 years he listened while hundreds of students wrote bad imitations of his best work; damn, few things are as demoralizing.  Instead, write as the best YOU – not the best Stephen King or Raymond Carver.  Ideally, write a paragraph so enticing it will make me crazy to read your next, and to read the book beyond that – even if there is no such book, yet.

            That said, don’t get caught with an obvious tease.  No gate-crashing, up-front version of “The dog’s penis tasted salty.”  To the best of your ability, be charming and engaging. 

            At the opposite end of the spectrum, avoid trying to prove how smart you are.  If your submission is a brilliant parody of the opening of The Iliad or Quo Vadis it will be wasted on me.  And beware of too-obvious virtue signaling – I don’t want to read endless scenes depicting Donald Trump guzzling warm urine from Ann Coulter’s shoe.  Shoot for something more timeless.  

            Yes, this is the test before the tests.  It’s frustrating and pointless trying to teach people who aren’t open and coachable, for example the student who dismisses all feedback, changes six words and resubmits the work as a fresh draft.  Don’t be that writer. 

            In closing, here’s an old rule:  Getting published isn’t the hard part… it’s the FIRST hard part.

--Chuck Palahniuk

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