Dear Literary Ladies

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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How Do I Become a More Effective Reader?

Dear Literary Ladies,

It’s important for someone who wants to be a good writer to be a good reader, right? Do you have any thoughts on becoming a more effective reader?

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. 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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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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