Dear Literary Ladies

Should I take time off work to write full time?

Dear Literary Ladies,
Miraculously, I’ve saved a bit of money, and I’m considering taking a few months or a year off of work to write full time. I want to see if I can make a go of it, once and for all. Is this a good idea, or would I be putting too much pressure on myself? 

It might be dangerous for you to have too much time to write. I mean if you took off a year and had nothing else to do but write and weren’t used to doing it all the time then you might get discouraged too easily. Of course I don’t know. But don’t anyhow say to yourself that you will give yourself so long to find out what you can do—because these things don’t work on time limits. Too much time is as bad as too little.

Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), from a letter to a friend


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How can a writer balance solitude and camaraderie?

Dear Literary Ladies,
How can a writer balance the need for quiet and solitude, with the desire for camaraderie? When I’m alone, working, I feel the need for feedback; and when I’m among colleagues, talking about my work, I feel I’m seeking too much outside validation.

If you don’t keep and guard and mature your force and above all, have time and quiet to perfect your work, you will be writing things not much better than you did five years ago. You must find a quiet place near the best companions (not those who admire and wonder at everything one does, but those who know the good things with delight!). Read More→


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Should you write for yourself, or for others?

Dear Literary Ladies,
Which is better—to write purely to please yourself, or to write with an audience in mind?

No, you don’t write for yourself or for others. You write out of a deep inner necessity. If you are a writer, you have to write, just as you have to breathe, or if you’re a singer you have to sing. But you’re not aware of doing it for someone. Read More→


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Is it possible to write well if you are a “starving artist”?

Dear Literary Ladies,
It’s so hard to make a living at writing these days. There used to be so many more paying outlets for short stories, essays, and sketches; now everyone expects writers to contribute free content. How did you manage to earn a living while building your reputation? Do you think it’s necessary to be a “starving artist” until one’s ship comes in?

I always took little dull jobs that didn’t take my mind and wouldn’t take all of my time, and that, on the other hand, paid me just enough to subsist. I think I’ve only spent about ten percent of my energies on writing. The other ninety percent went to keeping my head above water.

And I think that’s all wrong. Even Saint Teresa said, “I can pray better when I’m comfortable,” and she refused to wear her haircloth shirt or starve herself. I don’t think living in cellars and starving is any better for an artist than it is for anybody else; the only thing is that sometimes the artist has to take it, because it is the only possible way of salvation, if you’ll forgive that old-fashioned word. So I took it rather instinctively. I was inexperienced in the world, and likewise I hadn’t been trained to do anything you know, so I took all kinds of laborious jobs. But, you know, I think I could probably have written better if I’d been a little more comfortable.

Katherine Anne PorterThe Paris Review Interviews, 1963


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How can a writer deal with failure?

Dear Literary Ladies,
So many creative people are afraid to share their work with the world because they can’t risk failing. What words of wisdom can you offer to those of us who are willing to take that risk, and to bear inevitable failures with as much grace as possible?

In the working-day life of a professional writer success or failure is very likely to sum up much the same at the end. I don’t mean that failure is as pleasant as success. I’ve known both. Success stimulates the glands, revivifies the spirits, feeds the ego, fills the purse. Failure is a depressing thing to face. The critics rip your play to ribbons, audiences refuse to come to it; reviewers say your book is dull, or trite, readers will not buy it. You read these things, you hear them, you face them as you would face any misfortune, with as good grace as you can summon.

Success or failure, you go on to the next piece of work at hand. There may be a day of brooding or sulking or self-pity or resentment. But next morning there’s coffee and the newspaper and your typewriter, and the world. What’s done is done. Win or lose, success or failure, all’s to do again. If a lawyer or a doctor or a merchant or an engineer fails at a task it is, usually, a matter of private concern. But the failure of a playwright, an actor, a novelist, a musician, is publicly and scathingly announced and broadcast and published over an entire continent and frequently the whole civilized world. Often the terms of that announcement are cruel, personal, or even malicious, though this last is rare. Yet next day or next week, Read More→


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