Saturday, May 19, 2012

Visualizing Success as a Writer

One of the best books on actually living a writer’s life is Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See. I often give it as a gift to serious aspiring writers I know. Carolyn is herself an award-winning novelist, and her advice is pretty solid. (I have come to feel as if she is my friend from reading her novels and this book again and again, but though I’m on first-name basis with her here, I’ve never actually met Carolyn See.)

First, she tells us to write 1,000 words a day every day. Blam! Just like that! Right at the beginning! But she says they don’t have to be finished words—they don’t even have to be good words. We just have to put down 1,000 words every day. And of course, it works—because no one will be able to keep slapping random words on the page. We start to make sense, and then we start to make story. So, her rule number one is write 1,000 words each and every day.

Carolyn’s next rule will prompt groans from everyone. She talks about the need to build a writing community and to get involved in the writing community that already exists. So she wants us all to write a charming note each day to a different writer or editor or agent or reading series administrator, expressing our genuine appreciation for something they’ve done or written. I suspect this will be the biggest stumbling block among her rules for living the writing life, even though I’ve come to see the sense of it. (I must admit I don’t follow this rule very often, though, being no better than any of the rest of us.)

The rules continue throughout this informal and witty book, and they are all good rules. When I abide by them, I am in better shape than when I don’t. This I know. However, it’s another part of the book that I want to talk about here.

 Carolyn makes a great case for visualizing the career and life we want to live as writers. She talks about well-known writers who have entourages, chauffeurs, phalanxes of attractive bodyguards, or dramatic capes and trench coats. She makes a persuasive case that each of these successful writers had at some time in the past decided, consciously or unconsciously, that when they were successful they would have—entourages/chauffeurs/bodyguards/trench coats.

Carolyn encourages us to consciously visualize the successful writer’s life we want to have in the future in detail, including what we’ll wear, if that’s important to us, what friends we’ll have, where we’ll live, and more. That kind of visualization is important, I think. If we don’t put some thought into what we want, how will we know when we’ve achieved it? She encourages us to go into detail because some of the details are easier to achieve than others. It’s very tough to make the New York Times bestseller list, but it’s not so hard to save up for a splashy cape or dramatic trench coat.

So my question to all of you today, as well as to myself, is what would your life look like if you achieved the kind of writer’s success that you long to have?

I’m not into splashy capes or trench coats or matched pairs of bodyguards, but I think a chauffeur might be a nice achievement, especially on regular professional visits to New York City (which are very much a part of my visualization). Actually, I think I’ve already achieved this.

On my last trip to NYC to meet with my editor and attend a poetry award ceremony, I found a livery car service that took us all over the city at all hours and for less than a cab would have cost. After the post-award-ceremony bash, native New Yorkers in our party were futilely trying to gain the attention of cabs outside the restaurant while one phone call brought our driver to pick us up in front and take us across town to our B&B.

What would you visualize for your life as a successful writer? Inquiring minds want to know!


  1. My vision: To write a short or a novel and have immediate acceptance for publication; to have an agent or publisher who is enthusiastic about my work and who encourages; to be able to write without having to interact in public with readers--I'm a little anti-social with people I don't know--not that I'm unfriendly--just shy I guess; and of course, getting on the best seller list and have money rolling in (LOL).

    So-hold the limos and conspicuous consumption--I'd like a more practical wish list!

  2. Ah, but you see, EB, what Carolyn wants you to do is picture specifics rather than immediate acceptance, bestseller, etc. Just about any writer would want to see those.

    If you visualize your daily life as a successful writer, what details do you see? Do you have an assistant who comes in part-time or full-time to help you with correspondence, promotion, etc.? Do you have your own private writing studio in your backyard? Or do you go to a rented office in town? Or do you have your office set up in your house with everything just right for your writing style? And what would that look like?

  3. I'm like EB in the shyness department, so no entourage for me either, thanks.

    What I want is a gorgeous Victorian house, where I have a room specifically for me to do my writing. I want that room to be on the top most floor, & my desk faces a window. There's a nice, comfy chair in there for me to sit & read in, & a bookshelf with all of my reference books on it.

    I'll be able to spend as much of the day writing as I want, because I'll be a successful voice over artist, which takes up less time than a 9-5 job.

    Yep, that's what I want, & I know the house that I want to do it in.

  4. Since I often write in my PJs ;) I'd like my office in my home, like it is now, but perhaps overlooking the Sound so I have a great view. I'd like to get up every morning around six a.m. and write until noon, and then go on the beach in the afternoon with my husband. After, a quiet dinner-again overlooking the Sound. It's sounds so simple and yet, I always seem to never have enough time to myself. There are always projects--maybe that's what I need--a handy person who will tear off the old wallpaper and hang the new, someone who can wash and seal the decks, wash the cars, clean out the refrigerator, do the house cleaning. Yea--hey I'm starting to get into this ideal world. Thanks for changing my thinking, Linda!

  5. I'm with you, EB. I'd like a housekeeper/handyperson to take care of cleaning and repairs. Maybe a part-time assistant from the local college to help with promotion stuff--update website calendar, send out contest prize books, etc.

    In the past I'd have said I wanted a beautiful Victorian, too, Alyx. But right now, I'm so tired of old-house problems! Still, if I have my handyman that EB and I share...

    I know I want to make a professional trip to New York every year to meet with my editors and agent. I'd like to write one or more books set in England so I can travel there for an extended stay each year.

    I think of my friend Rhys Bowen, who lives in southern California and moves to Arizona in the CA "winters." We have real winters here, and I might like to have a winter place in Texas--San Antonio or Corpus Christi.

    And a view from the writing studio/office window, EB? Yes!

  6. I would like to have a room overlooking a lake or a river that is just for writing. I wouldn't mind having an assistant who helps me with a calendar, correspondence and promotion. I actually like to travel and talk about writing so that's not an issue. I want a cleaning service and a financial planner to keep track of the big bucks. :)

  7. Yes, Warren! Someone to wrestle with the taxes.

  8. And more. I would really like a top-notch face to face critique group, which is sorely missing from my life a the moment. Any suggestions? And a tutorial in writing software programs so I can find one better than I have now. I've tried teaching myself but the student in not the swiftest I've ever taught.

  9. Warren, I think for finding the face-to-face critique group you may want to approach it one person at a time. It's a delicate matter to find a good critique group. I'd tried joining some and found them unsatisfactory in different ways, so I formed my own, which has been great and still is.

  10. As a successful writer, I would stay where I am, but I'd add on a separate room just for my writing so my library could then revert back to a library or dining room when necessary. I'd hire a cleaning person, a handyman and a full time gardener. I'd still do gardening, because I'd need three gardeners to keep up, but one will suffice. I enjoy it too much to totally turn my gardens over to others. I'd have my own Geek person to take care of computer problems and someone to handle the finances. I'd travel first class, and I'd have a reliable house sitter to take care of the critters and other things when I'm gone. If I had all that, I'd feel more comfortable when I take off for conferences, go traveling with my siblings or off to California to visit my daughter. Ahhh, sweet dreams. Fancy clothes? No. Actually I hate shopping for anything other than books and plants. Maybe I could hire someone to find and bring clothes to my house for me to try them on at home.

    This is a fun blog, Linda.

  11. I definitely envision having a housekeeper, I can't stand cleaning. And I would have an office at home with a great view of either the ocean or the mountains, depending on where I live. And I'd have a weekend home in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, or on a lake in Maine.

  12. Oh, Anne, I'm with you on everything!

  13. Gloria, I can see you've done some real thinking about this! Lots of specifics.

  14. What I visualize is a home in Salem, somewhere near the common and the harbor. I would have a book shop with writing and talking space and would live out back. I used to think this would be in Marblehead where I lived for a long time, and still do love. Salem, though, is differently special and much easier to negotiate, physically. And I was born there. There is something about that.

    That is really what I want most.

  15. Reine, let's visualize that for you as clearly as we can. May it happen for you just as you see it. I'd love to visit your bookstore in Salem.

  16. Linda, you are so dear. You will always be welcome. I can smell the salt air, clean and fresh. Would you like a lime Ricky with your clam roll?

    After I close up the shop, we'll go over to the Willows. We'll get chop suey sandwiches and eat them as we walk to the little beach where I played as a baby. We'll eat wintergreen candied popcorn on the way to Forest River Park.

    I'll show you the tidal swimming pool and the huge wide concrete slide that I played on with my cousins from Danvers. During the depression my grandfather Jean had a job feeding the deer here. Many of my French and English ancestors lived within sight of this spot.

    We'll have a terrific time. I look forward to it. Anticipation. Can you hear the seagulls?

  17. Ah, Reine! See, you've done the best job of any of us in visualizing in specific details. That's the kind of visualizing Carolyn asks of us. I can smell and hear and see your wanted future.

    May it come to pass. I will certainly visit you there when it does. I hope to visit you in Tucson even before that. Happy Sunday, my friend!

  18. My vision: To finally open the floodgates within my soul and, to let them be brought to life with words painted upon a page. this I would ideally do in my writers room with. windows that capture the shadows of the morning sun and, when they are open one can hear the surf. I will write in that room smelling the salt spray as, I bring life to the pages!!