Previous Writer to Writer Mentees
Whitney Curry Wimbish
Spring 2015 Session
Whitney Curry Wimbish is a journalist and the managing editor for a Financial Times specialty publication. She began writing fiction after spending more than a decade reporting and recently earned an MFA from the New School. Whitney is interested in small towns, isolation, and weird details. She is from Alaska, lives in Brooklyn, and tweets at @WhitneyCWimbish.
Whitney worked with writer Lori Ostlund.
What were your goals for this program, and how did you communicate them to your mentor?
I wanted to learn how to write better dialogue and get my characters to do more of the work of storytelling—though I wasn’t able to state that as concisely when I began the program. After working as a journalist for many years, all I knew was that I felt locked into a certain way of writing and needed help busting out because my fiction didn’t sound the way I wanted it to. Before my first Skype conversation with my mentor, Lori Ostlund, I wrote out everything I really wanted to learn and then winnowed that down to a few really essential things I hoped to get out of our three months together, so I wouldn’t sound like a crazy person with an impossible wish list.
How would you describe the matching process and how well matched you were with your mentor?
I think Lori is my ideal mentor. I have never learned so much from one person in such a condensed period of time.
Was there a specific time you felt that you and your mentor "clicked"?
I think it was in our first conversation—I was nervous about making a good first impression, and Lori put me at ease right away. We both have roots in Minnesota, and we chatted about some of the funny oddities of the Midwest, and I really just felt an immediate kinship. Also, when we met in person at the AWP conference in Minnesota, the first words out of my mouth were to confess that I had just spilled water down Diane Zinna’s back like an oaf, and she said something like, “That’s something I would do.” No big reaction. No “That’s terrible!” Just, “Yeah.”
What advice do you have for people entering the program next?
If your mentor is open to it, focus some of your craft conversations on a piece of your writing so you can talk in specifics instead of in theory. I found that to be so instructive.
What is something you learned from your mentor or this process?
I learned to pinpoint some of the reasons why a scene might be dragging—especially scenes in which I’m trying to generate a lot of tension. I also learned some ways to insinuate a backstory or history between characters through their interactions with each other, instead of loading down a section with lots of description.
What is something that happened during the session that you did not expect?
I did not expect to so immediately put to use lessons I learned through our conversations. I completely rewrote two stories, both of which are better now. I do not think I could have done so in such a compressed amount of time without Lori’s help and encouragement to keep rewriting.
In what ways did this experience differ from, say, taking a creative writing class or workshop?
This program offers one-on-one guidance from someone with a consistent and particular point of view. I think classes and workshops can sometimes make a writer feel pulled in different directions, because there are so many different voices suggesting different and sometimes opposing viewpoints—the teacher, the other student writers, the writers whose work the class is reading. This program is a concentrated dose of information from someone who selects you based on your work. That’s invaluable—a rare gift for one in any discipline.
How has this experience helped your writing or work process?
This experience has most directly affected how I approach rewriting. I’m better able to see what needs adjusting and how.
Where will you and your mentor go from here, following the formal conclusion of the program?
I hope Lori will want to chat with me from time to time in the future—I know I will want to chat with her!