One of my favorite writing books is MAKING A LITERARY LIFE by Carolyn See. She’s funny, irreverent, smart, and has a plan for carving out the literary life you crave that is concrete, effective—and most importantly, do-able. Yes, anybody can do this.
Are you sometimes secretly afraid that you're merely an ordinary Joe/Jane and all of your favorite authors who are up on that pedestal of perfect sentences just look coolly down their noses at all of us? Not so! You too can be a part of the literary scene and the book world—even if you’re just a beginner, have no credits to your name, and are still struggling with a cohesive plot, let alone able to master gorgeously crafted prose.
That's what makes How To Make a Literary Life such a great book because Carolyn See will give you a realistic PLAN that shows you the path to becoming the writer you want to be and a true part of the literary world.
I’m going to focus on one of my favorite sections, Chapter Four: Charming Notes
What does Ms. See mean when she suggests/admonishes us to write one Charming Note five days a week for the rest of your life?
“Really? Daily charming notes? Is that true?” you may be asking.
She says, “Write one charming note to a novelist, an editor, a journalist, a poet, a sculptor, even an agent whose professional work or reputation you admire.” And I would add: or write charming notes to the other writer friends you know or want to know, or the RAs of SCBWI or, or . . . the list is endless.
After you write the note, you put a stamp on it and mail it. YES! We're talking post office here. REAL letters. Pretend you’re still living in the 20th century and email hasn’t been invented yet.
What do these Charming Notes accomplish? They salute the writer, editor, and agent and tell them that what they do is good and admirable. That not even these famous people are laboring over their writing and art in a vacuum. But the notes also say that YOU exist, too—in the same world as the people you admire and would probably drop to your knees and worship if you were ever to meet them.
And remember - notes! NOT your entire life story. NOT your manuscript. NOT “can I take you to dinner next week when I’m in NYC?”
Be polite, be gracious. Ms. See says: “You’re entering into an emotional and spiritual courtship with the literary world that will last the rest of your life.” (I LOVE this!)
Carolyn See has tons of very cool anecdotes about *her* charming notes, *other* writers charming notes as well as the “dos and don’ts” of how to write *your* own Charming Notes.
My personal Charming Note story:
Last summer I was finishing up the copy edits for The Healing Spell, and discussing potential blurbs with my editor. Richard Peck is someone I have always wanted to tell “thank you” for the enormous affect he had on my life twenty years ago (before his Newbery’s and big book awards) at two small, very personal conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They were magical weekends and I knew that those conferences had affected Richard in a very personal way, too (why I know this is too long to go into and not that important to my story). But I had never written to him before to say "thank you" - and now he was one of the biggest names in children's lit - and I am just a peon.
I spent three weeks getting up my nerve. I finally wrote it, revised the letter for another two weeks, got his snail mail address from a mutual acquaintance – and finally mailed it. I was very nervous! Would he think I was a complete dope?
Three days later, Richard Peck had received my letter and promptly telephoned my editor to say that he would love to read my manuscript. Scholastic immediately made a bound copy for him and personally messenger-ed it over to his apartment!
Two weeks later he’d read it and sent a blurb for me. He and I exchanged colorful postcards over it all.
I sent a simple thank you gift. Then I received this:
I’m saving this note Richard Peck sent me in his utterly beautiful and charming handwriting. Oh, yes, I am.
Now go forth. Work on your novel every day. Write Charming Notes.
And CREATE your very own literary life.