Breaking into print

LITFestFour writers offer quick tips for breaking into the writing world. They are among the speakers, panelists and workshop leaders during LITFest Feb. 3 and 4 at Harvard. 

By the English Department staff
How do you break into the writing world? It isn't easy but four alums -- Lucy Ives ‘03, Weike Wang ‘11, Sorrel Westbrook ‘14 and Molly Roberts ’16 -- offer their top tips for getting published in the following interviews. They will also be part of the literary lineup Feb. 3 and 4 during LITFest, an annual literary conference that is free and open to the public, and hosted by the Department of English and Division of the Arts and Humanities. Breaking in with Recent Harvard Alumni, for which the four writers are panelist, will take place 9:30 a.m., Feb. 4 in the Thompson Room at the Barker Center. For more information about panels, workshops and keynotes, click here. 

Lucy Ives '03
Lucy Ives '03
Lucy Ives ’03 writes, teaches and lives in New York City. After Harvard, she went to the University of Iowa, where she studied poetry. After finishing her MFA, she “was a bit at loose ends: I needed to earn a living, and it turns out it takes a little while to publish a book.” Penguin accepted her novel Impossible Views of the World, which will be published this year.  

Tip: “With writing, continue. I'm a runner and what they say about physical practice is also true of a manuscript: Don't stop when it hurts. Stop when you're done. Although my first book was taken only three years after I'd finished my MFA, it seemed like an eternity to me. I mention this in case anyone feels very impatient.”

Weike Wang '03
Weike Wang '11
Weike Wang ’11 earned her undergraduate Harvard degree in chemistry and her doctorate in public health. She also has an MFA from Boston University. Her fiction has been published in literary magazines including Alaska Quarterly Review, Glimmer Train and Ploughshares. She lives in New York City, and Knopf will publish her first novel Chemistry in May.

Tip: “Take inspiring classes with inspiring teachers and read voraciously. During my undergrad years, I had a fabulous creative writing teacher, whose encouragement changed my path, rather severely. (I had graduated Harvard with a chem major.) Then during my MFA, I had another set of teachers, who were stern and practical but equally inspiring. I didn't read voraciously as a child, but in college and beyond I started reading the works of my teachers and then the works of the writers they recommended.” 

Sorrel Westbrook ’14
Sorrel Westbrook ’14
Sorrel Westbrook ‘14 is from Bishop, California, what she calls “the mule capital of the world.” After Harvard, she got an MFA in Fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She is working on her first novel, and writing for the New Haven publication Daily Nutmeg. She has been published in the Masters Review, Bartleby Snopes, Covered in Fur and the Harvard Review.

Tip: “Be absolutely confident in your own work and aesthetic. Don't try to write propaganda to appeal to certain audiences. Don't write for people who don't want to read your work. That's the fastest way to frustrate yourself. Write what you know you need to, and trust that your work will represent itself accurately. And always proofread your emails.”

Molly Roberts ’16 works for the Opinions section of The Washington Post. “I'm just getting started,” she says.

Molly Roberts '16
Molly Roberts '16

Tip: “Get started early – whether it's writing for a publication at school, freelancing for one off-campus, or even just taking time each day to put some words on paper or a computer screen. No one can notice you if there's nothing to notice, so it's important to write as much as possible for as many people as possible to see.”