Amy Hempel started writing fiction in her late twenties when she took a workshop with Gordon Lish at Columbia; she stayed in this workshop as a student for years. In an interview with The Paris Review, Hempel recalls her first class meeting with Lish: students were asked to write their worst secret. By exploring the event that they would never live down, students would find that they were divulging much harder truths than they had ever thought to tell. They were expected to say things that no one had said before.
Of her experience in the workshop, Hempel says, “I felt humbled by realizing how hard the job was. How hard it is to write a moving, worthwhile, memorable story.”