How to Be a Writer: Write a Fan Letter

May 27, 2010 — 3 Comments

I’m doing this How to Become a Writer series because there’s actually more to being a writer than just writing. Writing is the biggie, of course, but there are a million books and blogs about how to be a better writer, how to craft a better character, mend a broken poetic line (or break a brittle one), write a query letter, or find an agent.

But I haven’t seen anything about the fact that being a writer is a lifestyle choice–usually a lifestyle change. Writing is not just about putting butt to chair and fingers to keyboard, it’s about participating in the literature of the contemporary moment. Can you imagine a musician who doesn’t listen to music, attend concerts, and talk/debate with other musicians? Writing itself is solitary, but your words are part of a larger conversation about what’s important right now and in the near and far future. What stories need to be told, and how.

Participating in this exciting literary moment (and it is exciting, alive and kicking) requires more than just sitting at your desk and writing. It requires writing about writing, reading, writing about reading, attending readings, meeting writers, writing to writers, writing about writers, maybe even teaching or class-taking.

So the next item of the to-do list: Write a Fan Letter

Write a fan letter to a not-so-famous writer. I recommend a not-so-famous author because they’re usually better writers than the famous ones, and because it will likely make their day to get your letter. It can be an email, if the email address is available (and it probably is).

Tell them what you like about their book/writing. Be specific. Be thoughtful (as in, think about the work in an engaged way.) Refer to lines and characters and passages. Promise to recommend/buy the book for a friend.

Feel free to tell a little about yourself or to ask a brief question. Do NOT tell a lot about yourself or ask a lot of questions or, for the love of god, ask them to do anything on your behalf.

[One good place to learn about up-and-coming writers is the Emerging Writers Network.]

3 responses to How to Be a Writer: Write a Fan Letter


    Thanks for the EWN plug! I wrote to emerging writers back when I was in college – writers like Pinckney Benedict, Bo Ball, David Huddle, Peter LaSalle, Lon Otto, Mary Gaitskill, and Elizabeth Tallent from those that I remember. TC Boyle too though he was pretty established by the late 80’s. All wrote back at least once.


    Wow, so you must have sent, like, real letters! Which makes it even more impressive that they wrote back when they had to actually write, address, and post a reply. Very cool.

    Thanks for leaving a comment. You do great work over at EWN, and I especially love the celebration of the short story this month!

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