Six months ago when I told a friend that I was going to take a crack at writing, something I’ve always done but kept private, I got the expected look of skepticism. You know the look. Eyebrows shoot up, eyes widen, shoulders raise followed by a loud long sigh as the eyes roll heavenward.
Yes, that is exactly why I have kept EVERYTHING I have ever written under lock and key.
Two days later the same friend presented me with a gift. My skeptical friend had gone out and bought me Carolyn See’s book Making a Literary Life, Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. Was this meant as a joke? A deterrent? Or was my eyeball rolling friend actually encouraging me? Unsure of its meaning I made light of the gift, mumbled my thanks and shoved it into my bag.
It took me three hours to read Making a Literary Life in its entirety, I could not put it down. Carolyn See had me hooked with her witty and straightforward advice. Absent were the patronizing lectures that I had read up to that point. Instead, I felt as if I were sitting down at the kitchen table with my bachelorette aunt as she gave me advice on life.
Six months later I have not published a single book or made that first trip to New York. I never expected to, I am not ready yet, my work definitely is not ready but what I have learned has meant just as much to me. Here is a look at the first three steps I have taken to make a literary life so far.
Step 1 to Making a Literary Life: Keep it to Yourself
Ah, the rolling eyes! Well, I am glad I read this book before I had to sit through more rolling eyes or incredulous looks. I consider myself lucky, I was only cornered by a couple family members and friends while they lectured me about not reaching my potential.
My immediate family on the other hand was delighted when I told them I wanted to write. They knew about my passion for reading, watched me grow up with my nose in a book, so the news that I wanted to write was not surprising to them.
CHECK! My desire to shout to the hills that I want to write, my need to tell you all about my lifelong wish and dream of being a writer, to live as Hemingway did has been tamed.
I am now very composed and humble about my endeavors. The response to the low- key route is amazing. No more eyes rolling, instead I get looks of curiosity and even the occasional surprised look of appraisal.
Step 2 to Making a Literary Life: Find Your Material
All the time I would’ve spent listening to myself talk about myself can now be put to good use. See encourages you to take the time to just listen, listen to those around you, the world around you, the voices…err, voice in your head. In order to be the best writer you need to find out the kind of person you are, find your voice, look at where life has led you and use this to create your characters. You want the best of you to come through in your writing but first you need to be able to recognize and understand it.
CHECK! (Work In Progress) Once I began the search for my voice I realized that daydreaming might just be my calling! Honestly, this step has really shown me how to listen, something I thought I was good at already. Thoughts, ideas, dreams that I had suppressed over time because I lacked confidence in my abilities began to resurface. I am no longer afraid of projects I have always wanted to undertake or of writing about the things I love in a less than brilliant voice.
How can I be? It is all the voices in my head talk about all day. I know what I want to write about, I’ve found my material! Now if only I could get some peace and quiet.
Step 3 to Making a Literary Life: Write 1,000 Words a Day
See’s next bit of advice, write one thousand words a day, five days a week. She gives two reasons for this. The first reason is solely to keep up appearances. If you, as a writer, sit down five days a week and do nothing but strictly write, then it appears to the outside world that yes you are a bona fide writer, working just like the rest of them. The second reason is more practical and the heart of the exercise, writing everyday helps you build momentum. Once you have become accustomed to the habit of writing everyday it becomes easier and easier, almost second nature. What you choose to write about does not matter, but See does suggest putting it in fictional terms or another preferred style once you have become comfortable with the exercise.
CHECK! My first day I stared at my computer for hours, until that moment I never had a problem writing anything at all. It took me a day or two to get over the spotlight that was focused on me and I have religiously written one thousand words a day since. I went from the computer, to a pretty journal to the big five subject notebooks for my thousand words and everyday I let the voices out for just a little while to play.
Where does this leave me? Well, I have a little less room on my bookshelf, had a heartening lesson in humility, I am capable of daydreaming for hours, and I am running the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
My road to making a literary life is not complete though. It has only been six months, I still have plenty to go. Stay tuned to see where the road leads me.