Dear Literary Ladies

Should writers draw characters and plots from real life?

Dear Literary Ladies,
How much should real life supply a writer with characters and plots? Should we be looking for people to base our fictional characters on, and stories upon which to model our plots?

“I think that actual life supplies a writer with characters much less than is thought. Of course there must be a beginning to every conception, but so much change seems to take place in it at once, that almost anything comes to serve the purpose — a face of a stranger, a face in a portrait, almost a face in the fire.

And people in life hardly seem to be definite enough to appear in print. They are not good or bad enough or clever or stupid enough, or pitiful enough. They would have to be presented by means of detailed description, and would not come through in talk. I think that the reason why a person is often angered by a supposed portrait of himself, is that the author leaves in some recognizable attributes, while the conception has altered so much that the subject is justified in thinking there is no resemblance. Read More→


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What’s your best advice for beginning writers?

Dear Literary Ladies: What’s your best advice for beginning writers, or really, anyone who’s trying to write regularly?

I have advice in just a few words. The first, of course, is to read. It’s surprising how many people think they want to be writers but they don’t really like to read books.

And the second is to write, every day, whether you like it or not. Screw inspiration. Read More→


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How much do authors want their work to be analyzed?

Dear Literary Ladies,

How much do you want your stories and novels to be analyzed, rather than enjoyed for their own sake? Sometimes the over-analysis that students have to do destroys the pleasure of reading. On the other hand, delving into deeper meanings and insights can expand the experience of reading. Where does a reader find the balance?

Last fall I received a letter from a student who said she would be “graciously appreciative” if would tell her “just what enlightenment” I expected her to get from each of my stories. I suspect she had a paper to write. I wrote her back to forget about enlightenment and just try to enjoy them. I knew that was the most unsatisfactory answer I could have given, of course, she didn’t want to enjoy them, she just wanted to figure them out. Read More→


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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 in the company of other writers and talk 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 an audience, or to please yourself?

Dear Literary Ladies,
These days, publishers want to know how authors plan to find the audience for their book well before the final draft is submitted. It’s all about marketing and platform, which can be daunting and distracting. Do you  write for the audience or market as a work is in progress, or does that ultimately make for a less desirable outcome? Is it better to write to please yourself?

Those critics or well-wishers who think that I could have written better than I have are flattering me. Always I have written at the top of my bent at that particular time. It may be that this or that, written five years later or one year earlier, or under different circumstances, might have been better for it. Read More→


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