Carolyn See is a writer, albeit one I have no experience of except for this book. But Making a Literary Life is a great book, so if I am only going to read one of her books, it might as well have been this one. I like everything about this book, from the old fashioned looking cover to the no nonsense advice to the shocking bits of humor. This was a fun read.
Her advice boils down to a few simple rules. Write a thousand words a day, or two hours of revision. And write a charming note a day to someone you admire in the literary world. Do this everyday for the rest of your life. There is a whole book that follows this advice, but really, that’s it in a nutshell. I have never been able to do it.
In fact, I have Carolyn See’s web page open right now, and I am not writing her a charming note telling how much I loved her book, Making a Literary Life. She talks about how her students don’t like the idea of writing the Charming Notes either, but they often find that the famous writer or editor or whoever takes a few moments and writes them back.
One of my favorite writer is Issac Asimov, long shuffled off this mortal coil, but his words live on. One of his articles talks about how he would get, from time to time, a stackful of random letters from school children. These were letter that kids were forced to write to him and said things like wow, we liked you book. He was not overly impressed with the idea of people writing to him just because someone told them to.
But then, teachers telling kids to write to writers is a bit different than what Making A Literary Life has in mind. My own small efforts at writing started in the 7th grade when I was given a stack of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines. I can do that, I thought. I wrote and submitted my writing until a couple of years after High School graduation and all that rather depressing business of having a job. With the except of my blog and a few letters to the editor of local newspapers, I have remained unpublished.
It is not Carolyn See’s fault that I lack whatever it is that all unpublished writers seem to lack. A willingness to stick to it, keep writing and submitting, to jot down a few Charming notes to a few famous people. I wrote one letter to one living author-Kurt Vonnegut, and I did nothing more than tell him that I loved whatever book of his I had just finished reading. He really was a great writer. But I never got a response, which is not all that surprising really.
So if you are an aspiring writer and have not yet read Making a Literary Life, by all means get a copy and read it. Keep it close at hand to flip through and think about and laugh at. And if you can, try doing a few of the things that Carolyn See suggests.
I have been trying to do something similar with my blogging. Write a post a day, everyday. Leave a comment at a blog I like. Carolyn See says not to ask for anything in these Charming notes. As a blogger, it seems that everyone is always asking for something. A link, a mention, a visit, a digg, a favorite, a comment, an exchange, a subscription. Not asking is hard. But it is possible. That whole thousand words a day on a book, that is hard.