Dear Literary Ladies

How can a busy mother possibly do any serious writing?

Dear Literary Ladies,
I’m having trouble juggling parenting and writing. I can’t live without writing, but every day brings a thousand interruptions, and I’m just not getting anything done. How can I make this a more positive experience, and feel less frustrated? Did any of you manage to raise a few kids and create a body of work simultaneously, and if so, how did you do it? Read More→


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How can one persevere when writing pays so poorly?

Dear Literary Ladies,
I work so hard at my writing, putting in an inordinate amount time and effort. For all that, the rewards are so meager. Adding up the hours I put into my work (which I’m not even sure is more than mediocre), I would be making much less than minimum wage! My family thinks I should pack it in. What can you advise to help me persevere in a pursuit that’s so poorly compensated?

How can we know if we work hard now and develop ourselves we will be more than mediocre? Isn’t this the world’s revenge on us for sticking our neck out? We can never know until we’ve worked, written . . . Weren’t the mothers and businessmen right after all? Shouldn’t we have avoided these disquieting questions and taken steady jobs and secured a good future for the kiddies?

Not unless we want to be bitter all our lives. Not unless we want to feel wistfully: What a writer I might have been, if only. If only I’d had the guts to try and work and shoulder the insecurity all that trial and work implied. 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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How should I deal with reviews of my work?

Dear Literary Ladies,
My first novel is finally coming out, and I’m thrilled! But I’m also concerned about how to handle reviews from critics as well as readers. It’s hard to ignore reviews these days, with everything on the web and in one’s face 24/7. Any words of wisdom before my book hits the shelves?

If one has sought the publicity of print, and sold one’s wares in the open market, one has sold to the purchasers the right to think what they choose about one’s books; and the novelist’s best safeguard is to put out of his mind the quality of praise or blame bestowed on [her] by reviewers and readers, and to write only for that dispassionate and ironic critic who dwells within the breast.

—Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance, 1934


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What’s scarier, failure or success?

Dear Literary Ladies,
Sometimes I wonder what I’m more afraid of—failure, or success? In its own way, the prospect of success seems daunting. And I know I’m not alone. Did any of you find the idea of actually succeeding as scary and incomprehensible as I do?

I never expected any sort of success with [To Kill a] Mockingbird. I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.

—Harper Lee, from a 1964 interview


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