What Can We Learn from Writers Who Came Before Us?

Much can be learned by studying the lives of classic and famous writers. What habits furthered their career? What did their career arc look like? How did they get inspired? And most important, what lessons can you apply to your writing life?

Jane Austen

Portrait of Jane Austen
Portrait of Jane Austen.
While fans of the movie The Jane Austen Book Club might be encouraged to think, "What would Jane do?" in times of romantic crisis, Jane Austen actually had difficulty conforming to the mores of her time. But her failure to marry -- as all of her heroines did -- was our largesse: in her life as a single woman, she penned some of the wittiest, most entertaining novels of the English language. Find out how. More

Avi

Born with a learning disability, Avi is proof that anyone with a gift for storytelling and a willingness to work can become a writer. "I enjoy writing and it is hard," he says. "But then it is hard for everyone to write well." More

Raymond Chandler

Though America's finest hard-boiled detective novelist is known for exposing L.A.'s seedy underbelly and for his streetwise (if poetic) writing style, he was actually a highly educated, even genteel man, who studied in England and France. Not until adulthood did he come to Southern California, the place that was to dominate his fiction.

Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry
Larry McMurtry. David Livingstone / Getty Images
Author of some thirty novels and 71 screenplays, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Larry McMurtry is a prolific and ambitious novelist. Throughout his long career, he's maintained the same schedule, and clearly it's served him well. Learn what worked for him.

Katherine Anne Porter

Hard-drinking, oft-married, and restless, Katherine Anne Porter offers more examples of what not to do as a writer than what to do. Despite her dissolute lifestyle, however, she managed to pen some of America's greatest short stories -- and she left a life story as compelling as anything she wrote. More

Mark Twain

Mark Twain.
Like Raymond Chandler, Mark Twain wrote to make a living and was famous in his day not for works like Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but for his travel writing. "High & fine literature is wine," he said once, "and mine is only water; but everybody likes water."

Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty lives most of her life in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was born. Far from hampering her success, however, this attachment to one place gave her the unsentimental voice and style that made her name. More

Christopher Sorrentino

Not only is Christopher Sorrentino a writer to learn from by example, he also has concrete advice for young writers. "Young writers should prioritize reading, above all," he told us in his recent interview. 

In addition, Sorrentino stresses the need for writers to be patient. "They shouldn't worry about finding an agent or whether what they're doing is appealing to the current market.  They should step outside the market and develop what's meaningful and beautiful to them." More

Kamy Wicoff

Kamy Wicoff is another contemporary author we have had the pleasure of speaking with. She, too, has given us some concrete advice on how to survive, and thrive as a writer. 

"There are all the obvious things, or maybe the two most obvious things," Wicoff told us. "1) read; 2) get a day job. But I would also say that my experience becoming a publisher has been eye-opening and, I think, crucial to my career. Young writers would be very wise to learn every part of the business and experiment and innovate in the publishing space rather than focusing solely on landing a book deal within the traditional system. The prestige and status those deals grant is still enormous, but it’s eroding, and the fact is that what you get in exchange for what you give up is a more and more dubious proposition. Writers are much more powerful when they control, or at least understand, the means of production in this rapidly changing landscape, and young writers especially can dive in and make a difference quickly." More

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