Wise, detailed, fast-paced and hilarious memoir about making it as a writer and the universal importance of cultivating relationships.
Before breaking into books, Shapiro (Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex, 2004, etc.) thrived for 20 years as a freelance essayist at the nation’s top magazines and newspapers. Now a journalism and creative-writing teacher at New York University and the New School, she doles out invaluable advice for aspiring scribes. Pulling back the curtain to reveal what it takes to earn a living with words, she emphasizes the usefulness of exploiting one’s obsessions, writing about people you love and realizing that a page a day is a book a year. Shapiro’s engaging stories about her career trajectory are replete with missteps. She provides guidance on transforming private humiliations into hilarity for the public forum and asserts that when it comes to getting published, ‘no’ never actually means ‘no.’ Her four-year stint at the New Yorker offers proof that flattery always helps with the literary in-crowd. (Hint: Writers love having their work quoted back to them.) Divided into chapters by advisers, starting with the high-school teacher who taught her that the secret to good writing is rewriting, the book is a testament to gratitude, people skills and perseverance. On the merit of not indulging a tendency toward procrastination, Shapiro imparts, “Remember, a plumber never gets plumber’s block.” In her illuminating portraits of former New York Times Book Review editor Michael Anderson and her famous cousin Howard Fast, Shapiro depicts these mentors with a combination of respect and unaffected objectivity, secure that she’s found her own footing in the field. The book’s final chapters, which explain how to find a great mentor and be a good protégé, should be required reading for all would-be writers.
Practical, timeless truths about personal and professional success in print and in life.