Dear Literary Ladies

Can you give me a reason to persist with my writing?

Dear Literary Ladies,

Sometimes I get so frustrated with my writing that I want to give up. It’s as often a pain as it is a pleasure, and it’s getting so hard to be published these days. Can you give me a reason to persist in this often thankless pursuit?

Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. To why am I here? To uselessness. It’s the streaming reason for living. Read More→


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Do you learn anything from reviews of your books?

Dear Literary Ladies,

Is there anything to be gained by reading reviews of one’s books? For most authors, it’s hard to ignore reviews; first of all, one is curious, but also, with google alerts and such, everything’s in your face 24/7. What was your experience with reviews, and did you learn anything of value from them?

Talk of reviews! I subscribed to a clipping bureau and they come in shoals every day. So far I have received sixty-six [reviews of Anne of Green Gables ] of which sixty were kind and flattering beyond my highest expectations; of the remaining six two were a mixture of praise and blame, two were contemptuous and positively harsh. Read More→


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Why am I afraid to take risks with my writing?

Dear Literary Ladies,
I want to go in a new direction with my writing. But I’m afraid I’ll fail and feel foolish. Can you give me any encouragement that will help me take some risks with my work and get out of my comfort zone?

Risk is essential. It’s scary. Every time I sit down and start the first page of a novel I am risking failure. We are encouraged in this world not to fail. College students are often encouraged to take the courses they are going to get A’s in so that they can get that nice grant to graduate school. And they are discouraged from taking the courses they may not get a good grade in but which fascinates them nevertheless. I think that is a bad thing that the world has done to us. Read More→


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Is it better to be a modest success than to risk failure?

Dear Literary Ladies,
I’m plugging away at a modest but steady writing career, but sometimes I think about aiming higher. I admit that I’m afraid to fail— and then look foolish to myself and others. What about you? Do you think it’s better to stick with what you do best, rather than stick your neck out and possibly fail?

Is it better to be extremely ambitious, or rather modest? Probably the latter is safer; but I hate safety, and would rather fail gloriously than dingily succeed.

Vita Sackville-West, from a letter to Virginia Woolf, Aug. 1928 Read More→


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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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