Ping-Pong and Perseverance: Writing Advice from Peter Turchi


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor.  Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magainze.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006. 


I first met Peter Turchi across the ping-pong table.  I was a first semester graduate student and he was the director of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.  I’d gotten pretty good at pong over the years, playing pick-up games in dormitory common rooms and beer pong at parties.  My game wasn’t professional, but I could hold my own.

But Turchi?  The man played serious table tennis, complete with fancy spins and lots of speed.  Playing against him was awe-inspiring.  It made me want to practice and improve my technique. 

In other words, Turchi’s playing inspired me.

After fifteen years at Warren Wilson, Turchi now teaches at Arizona State University where he is the director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing

His books include The Girls Next Door (a collection of stories) and Magician (a novel). He co-edited The Story Behind the Story: 26 Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work with Andrea Barrett and Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life with Charles Baxter.

In Maps of the Imagination: the Writer as Cartographer, Turchi traces the writer’s journey “into the unknown” and “off the map”.  It’s hard not to talk about Maps of the Imagination without fawning and drooling on Turchi’s sleeve.  The book has become legendary among the students and the faculty at Shared Worlds.  I’ve used it in a variety college classes, as well. 

Whether you’re a student writer looking to learn from a master or a weathered professional looking to sharpen your edge, Maps will change the way you see what you do as a writer and will push you to do more, to embrace more of the possibilities of the craft.  It has a realms-shaking, earth-shifting quality to it. 

In other words, Maps is inspiring.  (See Jeff’s comments on page 194 of BookLife for more.)

Below, Turchi shares both the best and worst advice he’s received on writing.  When you’re done here, stop by the resources for writers section of his website.


What is the best piece of general writing advice you’ve ever received?


Turchi:   “Keep at it.” Many years ago–I was 10 or 11–I wrote what I thought of as a newspaper article about my hero at the time, Boog Powell (Baltimore Orioles first baseman and cleanup hitter) and sent it off to The News American. I didn’t expect it to be published, but for some reason I thought someone there might tell me if it was a reasonable piece of writing. I distinctly remember that this “article” was handwritten, in my terrible handwriting, diagonally, across the printed lines on three small notebook pages. In other words: the entire presentation was about as preposterously unprofessional as it could be. If I had been on the receiving end, I have little doubt that I would have given it a curious glance and set it aside. But for some reason one of the sports reporters–I wish I could remember his name–sent it back, somehow restraining himself to just a few suggestions, then wished me the best for the future. “Keep at it,” he concluded. I try to keep that man’s generosity in mind when people ask me for advice about writing.

Perseverance may not be everything, but it counts for a lot.


What is the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?


Turchi:   “Give up,” followed closely by “pick one kind of writing.” The woman who ran the graduate program I attended was a font of terrible advice (many other people there were quite helpful). I didn’t know that her suggestion that I pick one genre (at the time I was a journalist, was working to write fiction, had written poems and a play, and had just started my first screenplay) was bad advice in general, but I knew it made no sense for me, as I enjoyed–and still enjoy–all kinds of writing. Childish as it may be to say “I told you so,” I have since had some success with fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and screenwriting.

I suppose the larger lesson here is that writing, and putting your work in front of readers and editors and publishers, involves all kinds of rejection and frustration; as difficult as it may be some days, you need to follow your passion, no matter what anyone says.

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