A Few of My Notes From Craft Lectures by Chaon, Ligon, Febos, and Proulx

Last week at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, I took notes at the craft lectures I attended. I typed them up, one sentence per line. Some of the sentences began to wander out of order, began to find each other to make these stanza things. I’m not a poet and I apologize to the poets for the form these notes assumed.

Thanks to Dan Chaon, Sam Ligon, Melissa Febos, and Annie Proulx for their insightful and valuable words.


A few of my notes from Dan Chaon’s craft lecture
“Observation, Detail, and the Uncanny”

As a child, I had a fear of shoes. They always looked like they were screaming.
Something familiar suddenly becomes strange.
The piano is grinning.


An object takes on a kind of glow. A sense of aliveness.
The metaphor leaps into you.
You do not choose the song that loops in your head.


What’s real is the sleepwalking part. The dream is the awakeness.
Writing is making meaning out of something that is random.
Uncanniness is a break in our experience of the logical world.


Be in a place where you’re not driving the boat.


A few of my notes from Sam Ligon’s craft lecture
“The Art and Craft of the Artisan Craft Cocktail”

The mysteriousness of writing is what people refer
to when they say writing can’t be taught.


We don’t want to understand the mysterious part.
Once we solve the craft problem at hand, it’s not going to apply again.


Habits can be cultivated, including the habit of art.
Process can’t be taught except for the part that can be taught.


How do we become invisible in our work and still be all over it?
Do what you can get away with.


I cling to a need to know what I’m doing.
I also cling to a need not to know.


Craft is a sinking raft.
Let go and swim.


A few of my notes from Melissa Febos’s craft lecture
“In Defense of Navel Gazing”

The bias against personal essays is a sexist mechanism to subordinate women.
Sexism hurts everybody.


You are allowed to tell your own story.
Writing about our own wounds is the only way to be free.


The artfulness of writing is craft.
Content will not substitute for craft.


Memoir is the opposite of narcissism.
Memoir is annihilating the self-image that pleases you.


Don’t avoid yourself. Let the stories in.
Refusing to write your story can make you a monster.


I don’t believe in writer’s block.
I only believe in fear.


A few of my notes from Annie Proulx’s

If you want to create shapely sentences, write them by hand.
It’s not a bad idea to mix beautiful writing with pedestrian paragraphs.


When you get stuck on a piece of writing, walk in a beautiful place.
There’s a connection between walking and working out words in your head.


Know about what you write rather than write about what you know.
It’s important for writers to read. It’s the old way of learning how to write.


Tackle big themes. It’s terribly important to know history.
Writers have a responsibility to the period they live in.


Never think you’re the cat’s pajamas.



  1. Anonymous on July 25, 2017 at 10:10 am

    Thanks for sharing your notes, Donna. Beautifully captured and helpful to me.

  2. Marcia Rutan on July 25, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Terrific! Thank you!

  3. Diane Rodill on July 26, 2017 at 1:21 am

    You are an angel for doing this. What a gift. Thank you.

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