The Kite and the String

How to Write with Spontaneity and Control—and Live to Tell the Tale


A targeted and insightful guide to the stages of writing fiction and memoir without falling into common traps, while wisely navigating the writing life, from an award-winning author and longtime teacher

Writing well does not result from following rules and instructions, but from a blend of spontaneity, judgment, and a wise attitude toward the work—neither despairing nor defensive, but clear-eyed, courageous, and discerning. Writers must learn to tolerate the early stages, the dreamlike and irrational states of mind, and then to move from jottings and ideas to a messy first draft, and onward into the work of revision. Understanding these stages is key.

The Kite and the String urges writers to let playfulness and spontaneity breathe life into the work—letting the kite move with the winds of feeling—while still holding on to the string that will keep it from flying away. Alice Mattison attends also to the difficulties of protecting writing time, preserving solitude, finding trusted readers, and setting the right goals for publication. The only writing guide that takes up both the stages of creative work and developing effective attitudes while progressing through them, plus strategies for learning more about the craft, The Kite and the String responds to a pressing need for writing guidance at all levels.

Now in Bookstores, or from:


“Unlike other guides on the topic, Mattison’s focuses on the process of becoming an author rather than the elements of a genre—finding story, not detailing its pieces… a lively and provocative read.”
—Library Journal (starred review)

“A generous, empathetic writer’s companion.”
—Kirkus (starred review)

“Brilliant, funny, and wise… [it] will send you running to your desk with new insight and inspiration. Every page is a keeper.”
—Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life

“Brimming with a practitioner’s reflective wisdom and immediately useful… [Mattison’s] insights are hugely relevant for all of us who write.”
—Sven Birkerts, author of The Art of Time in Memoir

“An indispensable writing guide by a master teacher, as tough-minded as it is encouraging… a sheer pleasure to read and re-read.”
—David Gates, author of A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me

“Mattison offers thoughtful, encouraging advice… She doles out guidance on crafting story, conjuring character, and keeping readers engaged, all peppered with examples taken from her own classroom as well as from the works of literary giants… Novice writers can do themselves (and us all) a favor by dipping into this practical primer.”
Publishers Weekly

Interviews and Essays

An interview with Alice Mattison by Sarai Walker Click Here

A podcast with Deborah Treisman, Fiction Editor of the New Yorker: Alice Mattison reads Lore Segal’s story “The First American”Click Here

An essay about powerful women in novels (or the lack of them)Click Here

An interview at Book Club Babble Click Here

A discussion of Grace Paley and what makes a short story, on the Atlantic blog.
Click Here

An interview on Flavorwire.
Click Here