Eight Wise Pieces of Writing Advice from Alice Mattison’s “The Kite and the String”

credit: Sigrid Estrada

When I came back to Flavorwire after maternity leave, I hadn’t written very much in months and I was wondering how to start again. My writing muscles, like my core muscles, had atrophied and the blank page intimidated me.

On my desk lay several books that had arrived in the interval, including Alice Mattison’s craft book The Kite and the String. The pages I initially glanced were full of warm but pragmatic wisdom, and so I sat down and read the whole thing cover to cover. In addition to providing fascinating studies of the writing process of female writers like Tillie Olsen and George Elliot (who don’t usually get discussed in these kinds of books), and a look at writers who prevailed despite state censorship, Mattison cuts through a lot of the bullshit mystique around the writing process, its focus on youth, glamour, sacrifice.

“If we do think of it as glamorous and thrilling and something that brings in lots of money, there will be very few of us,” Mattison told me on the phone last week, speaking of the writing life. “As long as a lot of us want to be writers, we have to find a way of managing.” That means paying the bills and spending time with loved ones, but also keeping our writing life, and time, sacred. Her whole approach was very bracing, so I asked Mattison, who teaches at the Bennington MFA program, to expound on eight of my favorite quotes from the book that tackle gender, fear, craft and process — many of which are relevant beyond writing and can be applied to any creative endeavor.