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Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers
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Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,132 Ratings  ·  119 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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Jul 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, writing
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
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
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
Feb 17, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Jun 12, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.)
Elizabeth Spencer
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
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
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
sarah  corbett morgan
Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
L.C. Lavado
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very good for young writers!
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: how-to-books
Carolyn See would make an interesting character, fiction or non-fiction. She's a book reviewer for the Washington Post, teaches English at UCLA, and is the the mother of novelist Lisa See. This book is a memoir and a guide to writing, but so much more. Truthfully, the detailed description she gives of the rat race within the life of a published author is enough to discourage one from trying to be a successful author. Interesting tip: write a "charming note" to someone you admire 5 days a week fo ...more
Kelly Ferguson
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor, nonfiction, craft
Great if you're looking for a humorous, meandering pep talk peppered with solid advice. Some of the nuts and bolts stuff is out of date (the book was published before social media took over the world), but the truth of the writing life is in there. Okay, off to finish 1000 words...
Aug 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Caitlin Coons
Nov 16, 2016 rated it did not like it
I was really disappointed in this book. I decided to read it for a bit of inspiration, but found it was very catered to the author's specific ideals of a writer and ultimately turned me off because of the type of writer I am and the professional I aspire to be. I tried to finish the book, but skimmed through most of it because I would read a chapter and get so turned off by her suggestions that I would move on to the next chapter.

I think there's good advice about committing to writing 1,000 word
Apr 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was asked to read 1CAdvice for Writers and Other Dreamers 1D by my professor at UC Riverside. The book is a collection of recommendations for writers that want to publish. The author 19s name is Carolyn See. She 19s a successful novelist, and she 19s picked up a little bit of insight over the last forty years that she finds fit to share. Writing is a tough gig. If you want to succeed, you need to know when to turn the fantasy off, and turn on your business side. Anyways, she shares this one ex ...more
Jul 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing

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
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
Catherine Shattuck
Nov 17, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Dec 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, ladies
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
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Because the book was published in 2002 it's outdated. There's not a word in it about indie publishing. Nor will you find any advice on social media and its role in marketing. If you're interested in how-to, contemporary advice for writers this is not the book for you.

But you should still pick it up if you love honest, irreverent and amusing prose. I found her advice about character, plot and writing useful. I loved the self-deprecating and irreverent writing. What struck me most, though, was th
Sep 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Apart from some strong language and riské content at times, this is one of the most candid and practical writing guides I've ever read. My favorite advice for the would-be writer is Carolyn See's admonishment to buy some classy stationery and write a "charming note" to a writer, editor, or someone else in the literary world, five days a week for the rest of your life. Establish yourself, in other words, and make a path for yourself - don't expect an editor or agent will take a chance on you when ...more
Tom Franklin
Mar 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Nairy  Fstukh
Aug 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
A great read. Worth the time. She gives straight forward advice without being depressing. Until the end. I'm beginning to see a trend in books about writing: We are all going to die and writing is a way to fill the days before dying. Something like this comes up in so many books and these books always end on a relatively sad note. Not sure why writers find it so necessary to end this way. Perhaps to try a hand at being profound. Also, the info on needing to go to New York seems out of date. Woul ...more
Oct 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: reference, writing
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
Colored Ink
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Kelly Pollard
Jan 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
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.
Jan 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Genuinely funny and had a few key gems in there about time and setting and establishing a relationship to your writing. Plus she reviews some of the harsh financial truths about pursuing the writing life. But some of the advice about the publishing industry came off as stalker-ish. The whole charming notes to editors and agents you've never met thing sounds like a great way to creep somebody out. On the whole, a useful book and I'm glad I read it.
David Stewart
Nov 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
The second time through this, it was more enjoyable. I've aged ten years and see more of myself in See's writing than I did as an idiot fresh out of college (creative writing major...). I wonder how much of her advice is applicable 2016 when online connectivity has changed the landscape of the written word so much, but there's certainly stuff in there worth your time. If nothing else, the memoir aspects make this a valuable read.
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
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.
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Carolyn See was the author of ten 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 was 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 won both the Gug
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.” 5 likes
“Wake up! Keep waking up! Wake up more and more often!” 1 likes
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