By Linda Rodriguez
One of the best books on actually living a writer’s life is Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See. I often give it as a gift to serious aspiring writers I know. Carolyn is herself an award-winning novelist, and her advice is pretty solid. (I have come to feel as if she is my friend from reading her novels and this book again and again, but though I’m on first-name basis with her here, I’ve never actually met Carolyn See.)
First, she tells us to write 1,000 words a day every day. Blam! Just like that! Right at the beginning! But she says they don’t have to be finished words—they don’t even have to be good words. We just have to put down 1,000 words every day. And of course, it works—because no one will be able to keep slapping random words on the page. We start to make sense, and then we start to make story. So, her rule number one is write 1,000 words each and every day.
Carolyn’s next rule will prompt groans from everyone. She talks about the need to build a writing community and to get involved in the writing community that already exists. So she wants us all to write a charming note each day to a different writer or editor or agent or reading series administrator, expressing our genuine appreciation for something they’ve done or written. I suspect this will be the biggest stumbling block among her rules for living the writing life, even though I’ve come to see the sense of it. (I must admit I don’t follow this rule very often, though, being no better than any of the rest of us.)
The rules continue throughout this informal and witty book, and they are all good rules. When I abide by them, I am in better shape than when I don’t. This I know. However, it’s another part of the book that I want to talk about here.
Carolyn makes a great case for visualizing the career and life we want to live as writers. She talks about well-known writers who have entourages, chauffeurs, phalanxes of attractive bodyguards, or dramatic capes and trench coats. She makes a persuasive case that each of these successful writers had at some time in the past decided, consciously or unconsciously, that when they were successful they would have—entourages/ chauffeurs/ bodyguards/ trench coats.
Carolyn encourages us to consciously visualize the successful writer’s life we want to have in the future in detail, including what we’ll wear, if that’s important to us, what friends we’ll have, where we’ll live, and more. That kind of visualization is important, I think. If we don’t put some thought into what we want, how will we know when we’ve achieved it? She encourages us to go into detail because some of the details are easier to achieve than others. It’s very tough to make the New York Times bestseller list, but it’s not so hard to save up for a splashy cape or dramatic trench coat.
So my question to all of you today, as well as to myself, is what would your life look like if you achieved the kind of writer’s success that you long to have?
I’m not into splashy capes or trench coats or matched pairs of bodyguards, but I think a chauffeur might be a nice achievement, especially on regular professional visits to New York City (which are very much a part of my visualization). Actually, I think I’ve already achieved this.
On my last trip to NYC to meet with my editor and attend a poetry award ceremony, I found a livery car service that took us all over the city at all hours and for less than a cab would have cost. After the post-award-ceremony bash, native New Yorkers in our party were futilely trying to gain the attention of cabs outside the restaurant while one phone call brought our driver to pick us up in front and take us across town to our B&B.
What would you visualize for your life as a successful writer? Inquiring minds want to know!
REPLIES TO COMMENTS (because Blogger):
Marilyn, how big is big? The power's in the specificity of the details. Do you want a fan base of 100,000? 600,000?
Mary, yes, first-class travel might well be a perk to visualize. A cook/nutritionist would help you stay in good shape so you could turn out more of your books.
Judith, the idea of ease is a great one. Things that make the different tasks we face easier for us will always be a favorite.