How to Become a Writer


Lorrie Moore

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How to Become a Writer Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Lorrie Moore's How to Become a Writer. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore was born in Glens Falls, a small town in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, in 1957. She majored in English at St. Lawrence University, during which time she won Seventeen magazine’s fiction contest at the age of 19. After college, she worked as a paralegal in Manhattan for two years, then enrolled in Cornell University’s MFA in Creative Writing. Moore realized, while studying at Cornell, that her two creative interests—writing and music—had begun to compete for her attention, so she gave up piano to focus on writing stories and soon began to have those stories accepted by magazines including Fiction International and StoryQuarterly. Upon graduating from Cornell, Moore secured a literary agent and quickly sold her first collection of short fiction, Self-Help, at the age of 26. Moore has since published three more short story collections, three novels, an essay collection, and a children’s book, and has won various prizes including the O. Henry Award and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize. She taught creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 30 years before joining the faculty at Vanderbilt University in 2013, serving as the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English.
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Historical Context of How to Become a Writer

Though it’s only mentioned by name once during “How to Become a Writer,” the Vietnam War is one of the key events that forms the backdrop of Francie’s childhood. The war spanned from 1955 to 1975 and saw 3.1 million US troops stationed in Vietnam over that time. When Francie is a young teenager, her brother is one of those soldiers, and he eventually returns with severe injuries from the conflict. Though Francie struggles to write about her brother’s experience, her stories frequently revolve around unexpected, violent explosions—a sign that the war and its direct effects on her brother have impacted Francie, showing her that the world around her is volatile and unpredictable. This, in turn, functions as a key realization in her formation as a writer.

Other Books Related to How to Become a Writer

When Knopf published Self-Help—Moore’s first collection, which includes “How to Become a Writer”—critics compared it to the works of Grace Paley, a celebrated American short story writer whose first collection, The Little Disturbances of Man (1959), focuses, much like Moore’s early stories, on the dynamics of romantic relationships. Several short story collections published around the same time as Self-Help by other American writers, such as Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1989) and Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior (1988), share themes also found in Moore’s own early work, like loneliness, disconnection, and sexuality. These themes also appear in Miranda July’s short story collection No One Belongs Here More than You (2007), which, like “How to Become a Writer” and the other stories in Self-Help, experiments with nontraditional perspectives and subtly absurd humor. 
Key Facts about How to Become a Writer
  • Full Title: How to Become a Writer
  • When Written: 1980–1983
  • Where Written: Ithaca, New York
  • When Published: 1985
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: The story follows Francie through different domestic and academic settings including her childhood home, school, and university.
  • Climax: Francie, feeling discouraged in her writing pursuits, decides to apply to law school.
  • Antagonist: Francie’s various teachers and peers who attempt to dissuade her from writing
  • Point of View: Second Person

Extra Credit for How to Become a Writer

Strict Deadline. When Lorrie Moore was 23 years old, she gave herself a deadline: if she hadn’t published a book by the time she turned 30, she’d give up writing altogether. Though she ended up publishing her first book when she was 28, she now considers that timeline “rather naïve.”

Theater-Struck. As a child, Moore attended the rehearsals of her parents’ amateur theater group and was transfixed when people she knew, like the postman, transformed into singing, dancing characters. She sees those rehearsals as some of the most culturally formative experiences of her early life.