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Making a Literary Life

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  800 ratings  ·  95 reviews
As Carolyn See says, writing guides are like preachers on Sunday—there may be a lot of them, but you can’t have too many, and there’s always an audience of the faithful. And while Making a Literary Life is ostensibly a book that teaches you how to write, it really teaches you how to make your interior life into your exterior life, how to find and join that community of lik ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 26th 2003 by Ballantine Books (first published 2002)
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On Writing by Stephen KingBird by Bird by Anne LamottThe Artist's Way by Julia CameronWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergLetters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Best Books on Creative Life
13th out of 233 books — 313 voters
On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Best Books on Writing
86th out of 470 books — 842 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,855)
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Salma
Few writing books succeed in keeping you from dozing off. Bradbury's "Zen" is an exception. So is Ayn Rand's "The Art of Fiction." And this. This book reads as quickly as Twilight, and you actually laugh out loud at every other paragraph (so don't read it in public places, unless you don't care if people look at you like you're loony). She covers style, the 'tax man' and other basics- stuff that most writing books stay far away from. She covers style beautifully. But really, this book is more in ...more
Susan Oleksiw
This book is subtitled Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, and that should be a clue to its content. Part II has the standard information on writing--character, plot, point of view, setting, building a scene, and rewriting.

But Part I is what sets this how-to book apart. The author advises the neophyte to build a life as a writer, and this means some very specific goals and behaviors. Keep your entry into the writing life private. Don't talk about your work (that's dangerous, as other writers
...more
Erik
Honestly, I don’t know Carolyn See from a bump on the log. But her literary how-to is just likely her only piece of writing that will make its mark on me – or pass under my eyes, for that matter. Reflecting on her forty-some-odd-year writing career, See condenses it all down into three succinct sections. The “Before” section is her best as she distills her recipe for writerly success into a simple prescription, humorously referred to as her “18-minute chili”: write a thousand words a day, five d ...more
Lia
What I got from this book:

1. Write from your life. Figure out who the main characters (good and bad) are, as they'll influence the characters you write.
2. Write a thousand words a day (or two hours editing) five days a week for the rest of your life.
3. Write a charming note to an artist, editor, author, agent, publisher, etc., five days a week (build up who you know by being thankful and charming rather than asking favors).
4. Pretend to be a writer by doing things that make you feel closer to
...more
Bart
This is a delightful book that, along with Stephen King's On Writing, composes a couple of the best books written in the last 25 years about the craft and profession of writing.

The words this book brings to mind are "lovely" and "gentle." Whatever Ms. See might be in her classroom or her other novels or life itself, she is a lovely and gentle advisor in Making a Literary Life, the very sort of advisor any beginning or intermediate or advanced writer should be fortunate to encounter. Her advice i
...more
Anna
A spectacular book on becoming a writer, filled with real-world approaches and habits as well as stories and observations from Ms. See's own experiences.

This book feels like a conversation with a wise and sassy aunt who not only cares deeply about your success, but will also kick you in the butt when you need it.

Who could ask for more?

(I'll now be reading this on an annual basis, along with BIRD BY BIRD.)
Ching-In
There were some concrete pieces of advice/guidance that I found useful (such as the write a 1000 words a day), but I really wish that she had been more aware of being more inclusive of her audience. There's definitely some alienating examples around what is "foreign" to her, but may not be to all of us (such as incomprehensible Sanskrit or a "rough-looking Chicano" being 2 examples I clearly remember). Also, I found her discussion of the difference between female and male writers to be somewhat ...more
Stephanie Morrill
This is a writing book that had been recommended to me often, and I can see why. It's a different type of writing book (more like Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott than a traditional how-to-write type book). I'm taking a lot of really good things from it, like the concept of charming notes. It's also one of the only writing books I've read that actually acknowledges zero writing takes place during the type of your book releasing.

I think this book captured really well what the life of a writer is like
...more
Harper Curtis
If you've already found your literary life, you don't need this book.

That being said, this is a USEFUL book.
It's a self-help book.
Is it annoying at times, sophomoric, long-winded? Yes!
Are there loads of anecdotes, some of them boring? Yes!
But if you have only three strong take-aways from a book like this it deserves its stars.
And there are many many useful, memorable moments in this book.
Recommended for any beginning writer, in any genre.
Jowayria Rahal
Picture the scene : You're an aspiring writer who's been meaning to write the big hit book that will make the world a better place for about ages. You've been writing your diaries since you were a kid but you never thought that they were literary or " serious " enough to start calling yourself ' a writer ' . On one cold day in November, while you're sitting in your favorite coffee shop sipping your coffee and reading your book, one of your best-loved authors comes in, takes a look at the place a ...more
sarah  corbett morgan
Oh my. This is jam packed with good advice for writers, the beginner, the pro, everyone of us. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you don't do anything else she suggests, write a thousand words a day for the rest of your life. And writing a charming letter of appreciation is not a bad thing to do, either. Read it. You'll be glad you did.
Colored Ink
I loved this book! Didn't agree with absolutely everything she said, but almost. Carolyn See GETS writers--or want-to-be-writers. Not another 'how-to' book, although she shares practices that lead to success. I found this book encouraging, eye-opening, and sometimes, even embarrassing--as if someone were telling my secrets. How did she know? But she does--she's been there--and been successful. This is someone I'd like to meet (I almost feel as if I had) and share a laugh with. Wonderful gift to ...more
L.C. Lavado
Very good for young writers!
Kat
Delightful.

I actually had this on my shelve for at least a year and a half--a copy I had borrowed from a writerly friend in a swap of writing books. Every wannabe writer needs to have a bunch of writing books sitting on the shelf--because maybe there is a secret to this whole writing thing. Maybe you really are DOING IT WRONG, and one day you'll find that holy grail of writing books that will make it all easy. (SPOILER ALERT: This never happens. That book doesn't exist).

You don't need to actual
...more
Jessica
After reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, I was eager to read more books on the topic of writing. Not just writing, but getting into the whole lifestylebehindwriting (because every career, from plumber to diplomat, has a way of life that goes with it). I found her tips on the mechanics of writing itself (point of view, the passage of time, etc.) slightly superficial. Nothing I didn't already know as a college graduate.

However, I did really enjoy her tips on a "writing"
...more
Kate
Carolyn See has done more than make a literary life for herself. She’s made a life for herself. In the face of doom-and-gloom naysayers, disconsolate critics, discouraging ex-husbands, and others who might have subverted her, See has built a buoyant life of her choosing. At least that’s the foremost impression upon reading Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. And it’s because of this tone—crackling with humor and a non-pollyannaish brand of optimism—that “writers and ot ...more
Ellie
Now that I've finished it, this book is kind of hilarious.

When Ms. See gives advice on writing, it's very sound. Start a writing habit. Write a thousand words a day. Write nice letters to people in the writing industry you admire. The chapter on editing was very good--she has a really organized way of looking at what needs fixing scene-by-scene. Her chapter on the pre- and post-publication process was illuminating.

But the problem is that she nests her good advice deep, deep within anecdotes, and
...more
Catherine Shattuck
I'm torn about this book. There were parts of it that I loved and found terribly helpful and hope I'll remember forever. There were parts of it where she really left me hanging, where I wanted to know how to solve a problem but she offered nothing more than acknowledgment: "Yep, that's hard for me too." It is very well-written, entertaining, and a total pleasure to read, even if you learn nothing about the craft of writing from it. I believe that reading about the writing process is always helpf ...more
Nsikan -TheSensitiveWriter- Akpan
The book didnt necessarily give me the resources to being a better writer or getting started, but i appreciated the advice on how to behave as a writer and having good etiquette when I show people (especially editors) my work. I also like the advice See provides for when a writer becomes successful. Can't wait to be in a position to use it. ;)
Andrea
I'm not sure why she hates poets, and I'm not gonna lie, that turned me from giving it three stars!

This is interesting and provided me with a lot of useful information, a fair amount of hope and understanding in how to be a writer. Honestly, if the book was just the last chapters on how to survive as a writer by grant-writing or magazine writing, and taxation, this book would get five stars, poet-hate or not. But it is not just that. It is a lot of other things.

This book made me feel very fondl
...more
Cheryl Anne
There is a nugget or two of practical advice in this book that keeps me from giving it only one star, but some tips were so ridiculous I laughed out loud. Like the one suggesting that aspiring authors should write "charming" letters to writers one admires. An attempt to force her own fan club into existence? I've not read any of her novels and probably won't after this, unless one is recommended to me by a trusted fellow reader. Carolyn See has a sharp wit, but I felt off kilter the whole time I ...more
Tom Franklin
See's premise, to make a literary life for yourself set two simple goals: write 1000 words a day for the rest of your life and write one "charming note" to an author, editor, publisher or agent each day, five days a week.

i have a list of authors to write to expressing thanks for their writing (and illustrating) but i don't know if that's a goal i'll keep up with every day for the rest of my life.

i think that 1000 words is doable if you're serious about writing. on a computer it's just less than
...more
Lana Wimmer
Making any kind of life holds challenges; choosing to be a writer is especially fraught with highs and lows. This is a book about truths: it's hard hard work. But extremely rewarding for those who endeavor. If you need inspiration, start here. Carolyn See's wit drives her fascinating narrative. You will finish this book once you start.
Karen
Some really clear, helpful advice alongside a messy, occasionally painful memoir. Loved the positive responses to rejection - it's going to happen and writers (even bloggers) need to know how to respond without totally losing it.

Practical advice: 1,000 words a day, five days a week or 2 hours of editing. Notes of appreciation to writers, editors, publishers (bloggers?) you admire. Positive responses to rejection. Ideas for self-promotion of published work (most likely no one else will do it). He
...more
Kelly Pollard
Carolyn See approaches the writing life with wit, charm and an insane amount of dedication. Do you want to be a writer? She pushes authors to pen 1000 words five days a week, no excuses, until you die. She encourages writers to send appreciative notes to writers they admire as another literary ritual. The book also includes tips on various fiction techniques (setting, character, point of view etc) but See's voice makes the usual writing instruction fresh and interesting.
Veronica Bartles
This book was published in 2002, so much of the "how to get your work published" information is woefully out-of-date. (For instance, you don't have to go to New York & try to make lunch dates with agents and editors in order to get noticed. In fact, if you randomly show up at their offices, you'll probably be escorted out by security.) But it was still an okay read, as long as you keep in mind that you have to filter the advice carefully.
Rosa
This was a book that helped me appreciate the writing process itself even more than I previously had, for all it can add to your life besides the finished words on paper. The exact date I read this is easy to remember, for it was two days after I had completed my Managing with Aloha manuscript. From that day on, the practices of writing a thousand words per day and sending "charming notes" would forever be See-isms for me.
Sarah Cler
A really wonderful, practical guide to making a living as a writer. Carolyn See gives readers a concrete plan for the business of composing a novel and publishing articles in magazines. Her wit and insight make this a surprising page-turner. This is a book that I will refer to over and over again, and would recommend to anyone who is even considering venturing into the world of writing.
Lisa
Honest to a point that it was nearly disconcerting. Loved it. The last chapter brought it completely home for me and has given me pause to reevaluate my determination to write or not write. I will continue to bring myself to the page daily, but not in the hopes of publication, but for the mere fact that my love for writing exceeds any further expectations. Awesome. Inspiring.
Jillian
A delightful and useful little book. Some aspects do feel dated already, but some of that is inevitable for a book that addresses nuances of the career field and not just how to write well. (Not sure what's up with all the gender stereotypes though.) Regardless, it's still a worthwhile read, and then some. The writing advice is really sound and I loved her amusing and genuine voice.
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Carolyn See is the author of nine books, including the memoir, Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America, an advice book on writing, Making a Literary Life, and the novels There Will Never Be Another You and The Handyman.

She is the Friday-morning reviewer for The Washington Post, and she has been on the boards of the National Book Critics Circle and PENWest International. She has won both the
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More about Carolyn See...
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“You can go a surprisingly long time without figuring out the kind of person you are and in what direction your life is taking you.” 2 likes
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