Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reading About Writing: Making A Literary Life

Someone keeps adding books to the free book pile at work. DON’T THEY KNOW THAT I’M TRYING TO CUT BACK? 


This time I only allowed myself to take two (in addition to the four I took last time). The first is about writing mysteries, so I’ve shelved that one until I plan to actually write a mystery. (It never hurts to be prepared, right?) The other one I started to read at work to decide whether I wanted to take it home at all, and then I just…kept reading it. Carolyn See is immensely clever and amusing and sharp. 

The abbreviated version of her advice is to write 1000 words a day five days a week – which is my plan already, awesome – and to write and mail a charming note to an admired member of the profession five days a week. Wait, what? 

Okay, I think we all know that I will not be writing and mailing a charming note every day. Story writing is more important than networking and it’s going to be hard enough to get that part done in the midst of teaching. But the general idea is a good one, and I figure I can comment on an admired author’s blog once a day and send those handwritten missives every month or so. 

Some of her other simple but helpful advice includes:

-- When you’re trying to “find your voice” as a writer, start with the one that you actually use when you talk. (It sounds obvious, but remember that I went to school to study literary works from the Renaissance, so I have to relearn these things about contemporary voice).

--Live like the writer you want to be. I’ve decided that means I should wear my oversized grey cardigan more. 

-- When revising, create a table with two columns: “What I Have” and “What I Need.” Fill in the columns for each chapter – the basic summary of events and what needs to be added or changed. Genius!

-- Let your beta readers know what you want them to focus on (logic, word choice, etc.) to take the pressure off of them having to tell you whether it’s good and destined for literary greatness. 

-- Send genuine thank you notes after rejections and bad reviews. They make you look good, they keep the lines of communication open, and maybe they make that cruel reviewer feel just a little bit guilty. 

-- Be careful about which characters’ minds you delve into. See’s illustrative example of men trying to write female orgasms is rather priceless. I think she also had an amusing self-publishing/prostitution analogy, but I can’t seem to find it at the moment. 

The only downfall of the book is that it already feels dated 8 years after its publication date. But while the gender roles seem rigid and the internet is notably ignored for the most part, all of that doesn’t take away from the wit and wisdom in the writing chapters. 

So thank you, anonymous free book temptress, for another great little volume to keep on my writing shelf.

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