10 Rules on How to Write and Get Paid for It: An Interview with Mary Karr

“Help me say the next true thing.” - Hemingway

I stumbled on the Beautiful Writers Podcast hosted by Linda Sivertsen and Danielle LaPorte
by chance. I was looking for a podcast focused on the business of writing. Mary Karr’s name in the podcast title gave me pause because I had heard interviews featuring her before - she is a riot.  

Mary Karr is the author of phenomenal works like Lit, The Liar's Club and The Art of Memoir. Karr is better known as the writer who reignited the memoir, and she has been teaching memoir for the past 30 years.

Here are Mary Karr’s tips on writing, life, getting paid for your work and her thoughts on building a platform.  

Write About People you Love
Karr: "I mostly write about people I love. Literature is not a place to settle a score. If you want revenge, you should buy a firearm or hire a lawyer." 
From my experience, when I attempt to only focus my writing on the latest news headline it becomes a hard task to complete. Writing about what you love is important because it will keep you at your desk working. It also makes the hardship of writing bearable.  

Keep Your Pages to Yourself Until You're Done. 
As mentioned in my book The Beginner’s Guide to Finding Your Brave, the opinions of others is deadly to creative work. What I believe Karr is suggesting here, is that if you are going to find your voice, you will need to be able to hear it, so don’t share your pages until you have completed the work you set out to do. Otherwise, you may be in for a longer rewriting process.  

Center Yourself Before you Begin
Karr centers herself by praying before she writes. She quoted Hemingway while discussing this point, “help me say the next true thing.” 

What is your truth you are trying to share with the world?

Does telling that truth come easy?

Before you begin your work how will you get to a place where telling the truth through your creative work comes naturally? 

I start my mornings with prayer and scripture, followed by a smoothie, my vitamins, jump and jacks and a full cup of water. There is no magic to it.

Never Feel Like you Have Arrived
Karr does not spend a lot of time hanging out in the company of writers. The key to her success and unique voice is that she has not allowed the success to change her at the core. Karr knows what works. But the greatest thing that has come out of her success she mentions, “I get to have conversations with people I admire - Maya Angelou, Ralph Ellison, Don DeLillo. It is meeting people who are having a conversation that I have aspired to have since I was five years old.” 

Creative Secret Weapon: Work, Work, Work *Rihanna voice*
Karr: "Just work. Hours, and hours, and hours of work. I can out work most people who are seen as talented." 
Outworking your competition at whatever your job will put you in a league of your own. You may not be the best writer, painter, sculptor, today but tomorrow is a new day - that's how I look at it. 

Self Evaluation: Examine Conscious
Karr lists her nightly routine entails chatting with God and an examination of her conscious. She looks for examples of God in the day. 

Does your nightly routine involve reflecting back over the day?

If it does what are the constants? What do you find? 

I do this about four to five times a week, and usually what I  discover and address is time wasted on social media or the internet. I also find that I can become worked up by what's going on around the world so I stay as far as I can away from the news during the day. 

How To Get More Money For Your Writing: 
Karr: "The secret to getting the big money is learning how to write and If it is not selling well rewrite it and make it better."

Enough said. 

Is a Platform Necessary? Followers on social media? (Gary Vanerchuck may disagree) 
Karr: "I still think the time-honored way to sell a book is to learn how to write. Write a really, really good book and it will find its audience."

I struggle to accept this point because of a recent rejection letter (post coming soon) I received and its several mentions regarding platform. But you can look at it two ways: rewrite it and work hard on the content to make it as good as you possibly can or work on building your platform to attract publishers. I believe brave action demands both. 

Money & Writing - "Professional Writers Write for Money" 
Karr gives this advice, "focus on the writing, that is your job, but if you write well enough platform doesn't matter and you will make money." 

On writing memoir, Karr ask, "what is the size of your inner life? What is your willingness to tell the truth?

She ended this interview by telling the Beautiful Writers Podcast host, "give them hell ladies!" (she is a total rebel)

Book Mentions: 
Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
N+1 essay titled, Money by Keith Gessen 

Discussion Question: What is the size of your inner life and are you taking the time to reflect each day?