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Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers Hardcover – August 13, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist and memoirist See (The Handyman; Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America) offers a how-to guide for the wannabe writer who can take the time to "write 1,000 words" per day. Viewing writing as a lifestyle as well as a vocation plays to See's strengths as a storyteller: her advice is salted with anecdotes she's picked up in years as the head of a literary household (her daughters are also writers) and as a teacher of university creative-writing classes. Starting at the beginning, she advises neophytes not to tell anyone about their aspirations, as "that bores people to death." Later she suggests sending a handwritten note of praise ("charming notes," she calls them) to someone admired in the literary world each day, five days a week for the rest of your life. Her advice is practical and folksy, and much of it wouldn't be out of place in an upscale women's magazine. The approach is comprehensive: aspirants are encouraged to "pretend" to be a writer, "make rejection a process," set up a travel account for that first trip to New York and deduct part of the cost of their clothing from their taxes as a "costume" expense. Practical chapters on "Character," "Plot," "Geography, Time, and Space" and "Building a Scene" are a little thin, but generally sound. Though not for the experienced writer, this is an easy-to-read beginner's guide, long on chat but somewhat short on technique.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This wonderful book manages to integrate perfectly advice to writers and would-be writers with delightful snippets from See's literary and teaching career she has authored nine books, teaches English at UCLA, and reviews regularly for the Washington Post. Mostly, this is a collection of anecdotes and name dropping (from her family and inner circle to well-known authors), and at times you'll feel as if you were listening in on one of her classes. See offers advice on how to write those "thousand words a day," behave like a writer, and get published after dealing first with myriad rejection letters. There are also sections on character, plot, and point of view, but don't think See approaches any of these topics in a formulaic way. She uses her wealth of experience to offer valuable, and sometimes hilarious insights into the writing process and the importance of revision. Whether you're a writer, a would-be writer, or just a reader who enjoys good writing, this book is a pleasure to read. Highly recommended. Herbert E. Shapiro, Empire State Coll., Rochester, NY
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (August 13, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067946316X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679463160
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #757,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Miles D. Moore VINE VOICE on October 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As with another of my favorite books, the late Barbara Grizzuti Harrison's "Italian Days," Carolyn See's "Making a Literary Life" is as much about the author as it is about the stated subject. See's subject, of course, is how to make your way as a writer--not only how to write, but how to get your writing published and make your name known in the literary world. Some of See's advice--such as writing a thousand words a day, five days a week--is eminently sensible; some of it--such as writing cheery thank-you notes to editors who reject your work or reviewers who trash it--is a little more difficult to swallow. But See's basic points are indisputable: the only way to be a writer is to write; the Biblical wisdom of "a soft answer turneth away wrath" holds just as true in the literary business as in any other; being a literary genius doesn't give you leave to abandon common courtesy. Of all guides to writing, "Making a Literary Life" has to be the most flat-out fun to read. You get See's observations on the art of writing ("The passive voice is really good for only one thing: the weaselly notes in committee meetings where nobody wants to get blamed for whatever happened"). You get her first-hand testimony on the damage wrought when the people around you don't support your writing ("My first husband, an elegant, brokenhearted artiste, knew for a fact that if you were smart enough to want to write, you were also smart enough to realize the extent of your own mediocrity"). You get the scoop on the eccentric behavior of all the authors See has met, from Amy Tan carrying two lapdogs in her purse to Harlan Ellison's confrontation with a bookseller at a literary conference ("He howled like a castrated bison; she responded with shrieks from `The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'").Read more ›
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By P. Lozar on March 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Most "how to become a writer" books leave me cold, and I admit to never having read one of Carolyn See's novels (someone once gave me a copy of "Golden Days," and I lost interest on about p. 10). But a friend recommended this book to me, and to my surprise I was hooked from the first paragraph. Ms. See must be a terrific writing teacher: she knows how to get and keep your attention with humor, pithy bits of wisdom, and the occasional juicy anecdote about a Famous Writer; but along with this, she conveys an amazing amount of practical, useful information about the literary life and how to make it yours. Her remarks on the "postpartum depression" that follows completion of a book, and on how to handle rejection, were reassuring: writers' guides usually don't go into the emotional ups and downs of the writing/publishing process, but she's been through it all more than once, and is willing to share what she's learned. Her brief chapters on creating characters, time and space, point of view, etc. are likewise full of helpful suggestions (although I disagree with her generalization that male writers are plot-oriented and female writers are character-oriented: consider, for example, Agatha Christie!).
While I strongly agree that the best way to become a writer is to WRITE, I find See's "1000 words, 5 days a week" formula to be no more or less useful than Julia Cameron's "morning pages" -- it's a good way to get started if you don't already write; but if (like me) you're a closet novelist and an inveterate journal-keeper, you'll have figured out your own writing rhythm by now (first thing in the morning, I can't even hold a pen, let alone form a sentence!).
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By B. Merritt VINE VOICE on August 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Do you want to learn how to `court' an editor? Want to learn how to get with the `IN' crowd within the literary world? Then this book is for you.
Writers, take note. This is another weapon/treasure to keep in your writing world's arsenal.
The upbeat note that it inflicts upon the reader/writer will not be soon forgotten. I'm still impressed with the way Carolyn See dishes out the information in this book. Not only does she give incredibly comedic, heroic and downright interesting information, but she follows most of these up with examples from her own life.
You can get to know your target editors by getting to know your target editors. Sound simple and redundant? It ain't. Amazingly, most of the things you'll need to succeed aren't necessarily in your desk or a computer file. They're in your head and your heart. And Carolyn See shows us how to tap into both areas.
Like `Bird By Bird' (by Anne Lamott), this book has earned a special place on my bookshelves.
A+ rating in my book!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie on January 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Carolyn See is one funny, brave woman. Her experience as a writer and teacher, and even more importantly, her basic humanity shines through this crisp,easy to read slim volume that gives both practical advice (write 1000 words a day!) and a wise philosophical slant on what it really takes to be a writer. A unique combo from a woman who is as natural a teacher as she is a writer.
I've been a pro in the writing biz for over twenty years, and still found amazing bits of stimulating advice - as if from an older, wiser sister, ahead of me on the road, and oh, so smart.
This book works equally well for the novice looking for some tips on shaping a writing life, and for the more experienced writer who may long for a role model for facing some of life's toughest arrows. She delivers on all counts. Highly, highly recommended.
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