Dear Literary Ladies

Are you ever afraid that you’ve written your last words?

Dear Literary Ladies, 
Every time I finish a piece of work, I feel so depleted. It feels like I’ll never be able to write another word, let alone complete anything. Is this common, and do accomplished authors ever feel this way?

This fear is one of the horrors of an author’s life. Where does work come from? What chance, what small episode will start the chain of creation? I once wrote a story about a writer who could not write anymore, and my friend Tennessee Williams said, ‘How could you dare write that story, it’s the most frightening work I have ever read.’ I was pretty well sunk while I was writing it.

Carson McCullers, 1917 – 1967 Read More→

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How can I tell if what I’m writing is any good?

Dear Literary Ladies,
How can you guage, in the midst of writing, if your work is any good? It’s so hard to be objective, and see the forest from the trees. Should I compare my writing with that of other writers I admire?

Since we must and do write each in our own way, we may during actual writing get more lasting instruction not from another’s work, whatever its blessings, however better it is than ours, but from our own poor scratched-over pages. For these we can hold up to life. That is, we are born with a mind and heart to hold each page up to and to ask: Is it valid?

Eudora Welty, from the essay “Words into Fiction,” 1965 Read More→

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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.

Doris Lessing Read More→

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How can I develop good writing habits?

Dear Literary Ladies,
With a full-time job and a thousand other things on my plate, my writing time is catch as catch can. Is it important to have regular writing times, so that writing becomes habitual?

I’m a full-time believer in writing habits … You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away … Read More→

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How can a writer deal with rejection?

Dear Literary Ladies,
I know that rejection is part of a writer’s life, but every time one submits something that gets turned down, it’s hard not to feel crushed. How did you learn to cope with it, and not take it personally?

After leaving Prince of Wales College I taught school for a year in Bideford, Prince Edward Island. I wrote a good deal and learned a good deal, but my stuff came back except from two periodicals the editors of which evidently thought that literature was its own reward, and quite independent of monetary considerations. I often wonder that I did not give up in utter discouragement.

At first I used to feel dreadfully hurt when a story or poem over which I had laboured and agonized came back, with one of those icy little rejection slips. Tears of disappointment would come in spite of myself, as I crept away to hide the poor, crimpled manuscript in the depths of my trunk. But after a while I got hardened to it and did not mind. I only set my teeth and said, “I will succeed.” I believed in myself and I struggled on alone, in secrecy and silence. I never told my ambitions and efforts and failures to any one. Down, deep down, under all discouragements and rebuff I knew I would “arrive” some day.

L.M. Montgomery, The Alpine Path, 1917

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