You’ve Told Your Worst Secret

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Gordon Lish, acclaimed writer, editor, and teacher, is renowned for giving fiction writers the following advice: tell your worst secret. Lish encourages writers to put themselves at risk, first making themselves emotionally vulnerable, and then restoring themselves. Through dramatized confessions, Lish hopes that students will capture their readers’ attention; writing, in this case, is viewed as a constant attempt to seduce readers while staving off boredom.

The trouble with Lish’s method, as Carla Blumenkranz writes, is that it can be used to produce great first stories and first books, but isn’t sustainable over the course of a literary career. “Most of us have only so many secrets, and after a certain point we lose interest in telling them.” Lish’s students who persisted in writing have transformed their work, making clear that “they are drawing on different resources.”

On a final note, Blumenkranz writes that “a teacher, an editor, even a lover isn’t supposed to become the world, but rather to point the writer toward it.” One might add that sharing secrets should not become a writer’s world, but can be an important stepping stone on the road to telling “attractive and compelling” stories.


Serena Candelaria is a Rumpus intern, and a self-proclaimed fiction addict. This summer, she worked at 29th Street Publishing and began writing a novella. She is currently a senior at Yale, where she studies Literature. More from this author →