Carolyn See

Making a Literary Life, Carolyn SeeCarolyn See
Making a Literary Life •

Carolyn See uses a wonderful culinary analogy to illustrate her point about the process of becoming a writer. Her father, she says, made his famous chili two ways: the 18-hour version and the 18-minute version. The former was a masterpiece that brought tears to the eyes; people came from miles around to taste it. But when he didn’t have that much time, the latter worked just fine. “The thing to remember is that 18-minute chili is far better than no chili at all.”

So it is, she contends, with embarking on a literary career. If you don’t have the patience or inclination for the more lengthy process, try the express, which consists of two simple tasks done regularly, five days a week throughout the year.

See has plenty of in-the-trenches stories to tell about her own path to authorship. Though I personally balk at the idea of scamming book clubs, as she did during her impoverished graduate student days, most of her advice is right on the money. Her technique for coping with rejection letters is the best I’ve ever seen. And it’s both refreshing and encouraging to come across gems like this: “You can actually drink a fair amount as long as you don’t begin your sentences with ‘You think you’re so smart. Well, let me tell you something . . .’ ”

She reminds you of what it’s so easy to forget—that all writers started out as Nobody Special, and got where they are by talent, hard work, and persistence. At least one author has benefitted mightily from See’s example: Her older daughter is the acclaimed novelist Lisa See.

Chili recipe not included.

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