Monday, March 15, 2010

Making a Literary Life

I have a huge listing of books that I've been wanting to review on this blog. I've been reading voraciously in the last six weeks and so many of the books have been wonderful. I keep starting review posts but never finishing them. Apparently I don't want to talk about what I'm reading. Or at least I let so much time elapse that I've forgotten most of the details.

So I'll be skipping the twenty books that I have waiting in my queue and will be talking about the book I just finished, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers by Carolyn See. I'm not sure why I'm okay talking about this one, particularly since I don't expect anyone reading this to actually go pick it up. It's really only a book for writers (or in my case, people who want to be writers). But for a writer, it is a wonderful book. Carolyn See focuses on all aspects of a writing life, from actually writing to revision to publicity.

The book starts with two big suggestions and these are the basic building blocks of a writing life. The first is to write 1000 words five days a week without fail. Carolyn recommends doing this Monday through Friday although I would probably plan to take Monday and Tuesday off and write through the weekend. My weekends tend to be far more productive than my Monday nights. It seems simple enough, 1000 words a day, that's two single spaced pages. I can write that in an hour. Yet there have been plenty of days where I haven't even come close to 1000 words. There are days that I don't even crack my notebook. But after reading this book I'm going to start. I work better with a bit of discipline.

The second suggestion is to write one charming note to an author, editor, illustrator... whose work you enjoy and send it out, doing that five days a week. These are simple notes of appreciation. They are words of encouragement. They are not to ask for favors or make requests of their time. Just a simple note to let them know that you exist and enjoy their work. This one will be far harder for me. As a bit of an introvert, the idea of sending out notes to random strangers is a bit much. But as Carolyn goes on to explain her reasoning, it makes a ton of sense. If you were looking into breaking into the medical world, you'd want to get to know some doctors. Same for the banking industry. So writers should get to know other writers.

Carolyn says that with those two basic ideas, you can start down the road to a literary life. But she doesn't stop there. This book had some of the best strategies I've ever read for revision. She makes something that has been incredibly difficult for me seem very simple. Carolyn uses a technique called mapping to create a detailed profile of each work. It breaks revision down into its parts and I was actually excited about the process after reading it. And that's saying a lot. She spends a good part of the book on getting published which she describes as a courtship. Think of editors as potential lovers and woo them slowly. No one just walks up to someone and asks them out. That is partially where those charming notes come in and where a well-done thank you note will make a difference. She takes some of the fear out of trying to get published. And then she offers types on creating your own publicity once your book is actually published.

There were so many amazing tips and tricks that I took away from this book. I've already set it up on my writing desk for future reference. Carolyn See takes something that seems like a scary business and makes it seem simple. It suddenly seems more like a game than a profession. The book got me excited about writing, revision, and publishing. Some of them for the first time. An interesting book for any writer.

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