I just finished reading a fun book called Why We Write, in which editor Meredith Maran compiles thoughts from well-known writers such as Mary Karr, Meg Wolitzer, and Sebastian Junger. In it, we learn that lots of people aren’t sure exactly why they write, but that doesn’t stop them from having interesting insights about the process. (We also learn, if we didn’t know already, that most writers hate the act of writing, or at least parts of it, sometimes.) Mostly, we get some solid advice from some of our nation’s most commercially and critically successful writers, both fiction and non.
Here, a few of my favorites:
From David Baldacci: “Whatever genre you write in, familiarize yourself with what’s current in your genre. What thrilled the reader even ten years ago doesn’t necessarily thrill today.”
From Jennifer Egan: “Read at the level at which you want to write.”
From Sue Grafton: “Figuring out how to get an agent, how to find a publisher, how to write a good query letter, how to pitch, how to network — all of this is beside the point until you’ve mastered the craft and honed your skills.”
From Kathryn Harrison: “We all know talented people who piss their lives away, and dogged souls who show up even when they’re uninspired, even when they’ve lost faith in their work. It’s good to have talent and discipline, but there’s really no substitute for self-discipline.”
From Mary Karr: “Most great writers suffer and have no idea how good they are. Most bad writers are very confident.”