Best Writing Advice Ever On Your Worst Enemy

“What should I do?” I began my session with my mentor. See, I was in a low-residence MFA, where we had two weeks in school (then the rest of the semester remote.) “I mean, I kind of like this beginning,” I said, showing her a printout of an essay I began, “but maybe this one makes more sense,” I said, whipping a different version out of my backpack.

I often did this when writing. I would start a version one way, then start a different version, then sometimes a third version and continue to write all of them at once, plagued by which was better.

Now let me tell you something about my first MFA mentor: she this gregarious (neurotic?) city girl’s polar opposite: she wrote about nature, lived in the mountains and had not a neurotic bone in her body. I bet she sat down and carefully outlined all her work and never debated internally anything.

I would later meet mentors who shared some of my qualities, who probably would have debated all the different versions with me, and help me go through my convoluted decision making process.

But this mentor either say that I was going through something bigger than just this piece — or she just honestly couldn’t relate or help me.

“I’m afraid that’s a problem you’re going to have to work through,” she said.


She was handing my problem back to me, all my tangled mess of thoughts and worries and confusion, placing it back in my lap.

At first I was steaming mad. Why won’t she help me? I thought.

But the more I considered it, the more brilliant I saw it was, whether it was deliberate or unintentional: This was my issue. I would have to deal with it myself. Choosing one version in this case wouldn’t help me and my tendency to always do this.  

I would have to work it out on my own.

When I was writing my book, I didn’t do this exactly — I didn’t have time for the two version thingy — but I would get stopped up and worried and anxious. And then I’d think of my first MFA mentor saying, I’m afraid that’s a problem you’re going to have to work though. 

And I did.

Author: Amy Klein

Amy Klein is the author of "The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind," (Ballantine, 2020) based on her New York Times "Fertility Diary" column. Her writing on health, science, reproduction and essays has also appeared in Slate, Salon, The Washington Post, Aeon and more.