Making a Literary Life

Carolyn See, an accomplished novelist and mother of the currently popular novelist Lisa See  ( Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, etc) published a wonderful book some years ago called Making A Literary Life. I love this book because it’s divided into three sections that deal with the writing life before publication, during the writing process, and after publication. But be forewarned, Ms. See uses quite a bit of profanity. If you are offended by that, here are a few of my favorite gems of wisdom, minus the “bad words” as my mother calls them— from  her book:

Write a thousand words a day. Carolyn says she took this tip from the diary of novelist Virginia Wolff. The thousand words might be a novel in progress, a memoir, a journal. The idea is to keep your writing muscles warmed up and flexible through constant exercise. Same idea as in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way in which she talks about writing “morning pages”. Before the advent of e-mail, my best friend and I, seaprated by the 1000 miles between Texas and Iowa,  used to write each other “morning pages” letters every day, on sheets of yellow legal pad, and drop them in the mail. Sometimes we shared snippets of stories, sometimes we worked through plots and story ideas; other days we just dished about work, boyfriends and husbands, parents, pets. But all of it contributed to building our writing muscles. Today, between us, we have published more than forty novels in both the CBA and the ABA. So I’m a big believer in writing a thousand words a day. At least.

Write notes to people in the business. This might mean a thank you note to your agent, to another writer  who gave you some good advice, to an author whose work you admire. In my opinion, this is some of the most valuable advice in the book, especially now in the age of e-mails. A couple of months ago I spoke at a writers’ workshop and a week or so later I received two handwritten thank you notes in the mail. They made  my day, not only because the writers said that my workshop had helped them, but because they took the time to sit down, compose a note, address an envelope, stamp it, and drop into the mail. Writing actual notes has become a lost art and because so few people bother anymore, a handwritten note that arrives via USPS makes a lasting impression.

Develop an entourage so that you are never alone at book signings. Signings are not as popular as they were when this book was written, thanks to the rise of e-books, but today your  “entourage” can read and endorse your new novel, post a review for you, give you a guest spot on a blog, or even introduce you to your dream agent. Members of your entourage, or  “posse” as I call them here in Texas, might come from your critique group, your online writing partners, your book club members, your church group, anywhere where people who love reading and writing might gather.

As Carolyn See says, writing guides are like preachers on Sunday–there may be a lot of them but you can never have too many, and there is always an audience of the faithful.  Her guide is one of the most useful ones in my  collection because it speaks to aspects of the writing life apart from learning craft. Highly recommended.

Do you have a tip to share for making a literary life? I’d love you to post it here.

4 thoughts on “Making a Literary Life

  1. Cathy Richmond

    For those of us who can’t find our stationery or stamps, or the message needs to arrive today, has a line of beautiful e-cards.

    1. dorothy Post author

      hi Cathy, Good to know! I guess I am just old fashioned. I love beautiful writing papers, great pens….although my handwriting is not as pretty as it once was. Too many years at the keyboard!

  2. Barbara Hartzler

    Great ideas for writers. Hope you don’t mind if I put a link on my blog. 🙂

    I got a calligraphy set for Christmas. Maybe now is the time to put pen to paper. It’s been a long time since I’ve written a thank you card.

    1. dorothy Post author

      Barbara, I’ve always wanted to try calligraphy.Talk about making an impression: not only an actual card, but done in calligraphy, too! Go for it. Thanks for stopping by Writers Caffeine.

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