The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life

Welcome to a site celebrating classic women authors who wrote enduring literature. Here you’ll find their words of wisdom for readers and writers. Enjoy their life stories and quotations; learn more about their books; read their advice on the writing life; and enjoy contemporary voices on the writing process.

Classic Women Authors Answer the Eternal Question, How Do Writers Get Ideas?

Willa Cather

Published authors are often asked “how do you get your ideas?” This is a question that defies easy answer, if it can be answered at all. Most often, ideas seem to find you, not the other way around. Of course, something you see, hear, or read can ignite sparks of inspiration, but the day-to-day work habits you develop can fuel the inception and development of ideas.

Here, L.M. MontgomeryLouisa May Alcott, Willa Cather, and Madeleine L’Engle share a common technique: they consciously allowed seedlings of ideas to blossom in their heads before setting them to paper.  Read More→

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Dorothy Canfield Fisher (February 17, 1879 – November 9, 1958) was an American author, educational reformer, and social activist based in New England. Her ancestors settled in Vermont in 1764 and owned land there ever since. Her father, James Hulme Canfield, was a college professor and president of several universities, and so the family valued education. Canfield Fisher’s was rather cosmopolitan, as she moved among several midwest university towns and traveled to France and Italy to broaden her scope. She spoke five languages and earned a doctorate in Romance languages and studied at the Sorbonne and at Columbia University.

She married John R. Fisher in 1907 and they lived on one of her family’s farms in Vermont. She continued to travel to Europe frequently but did most of her writing on the family homestead. Both Dorothy Fisher and her husband were closely affiliated with French issues, so upon the outbreak of World War I, they took their children and embarked for France to participate with relief work.

Immensely involved in social activism, she was also an advocate of racial equality and women’s rights at a time when those causes were resisted by the mainstream. As if that weren’t impressive enough, Canfield Fisher was also instrumental in bringing Montessori education to the U.S., and helped popularize adult education. Read More→

Edith Wharton’s Reflections on Her Writing Life

Edith Wharton

The following passages are from Edith Wharton’s memoir on writing and life, A Backward Glance, 1934:

A first attempt at a novel, rejected by Mother

“My first attempt (at age of eleven) was a novel, which began: “‘Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Brown?’ said Mrs. Tomkins. ‘If only I had known you were going to call I should have tidied up the drawing-room’.” Timorously I submitted this to my mother, and never shall I forget the sudden drop of my creative frenzy when she returned it with the icy comment: “Drawing-rooms are always tidy.” This was so crushing to a would-be novelist of manners that it shook me rudely out of my dream of writing fiction, and I turned to poetry instead. It was not thought necessary to feed my literary ambitions with foolscap, and for lack of paper I was driven to begging for the wrappings of the parcels delivered at the house.”  Read More→

Should making money be the main incentive for writing?

george sand

Dear Literary Ladies,
I write and write, sometimes getting compensated for my efforts, but often not. I just feel this incredible urge to keep putting words to paper, whether I get paid or not. Am I being foolish or naive? Should I try to do the kind of writing that might bring in a few bucks? Read More→

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God original cover

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) is certainly the best known work by Zora Neale Hurston. Always somewhat controversial, it’s fascinating to discover what reviewers thought of it when it first came out. Here are two enthusiastic reviews, one from an Illinois newspaper, and one from Australia, from that era.

Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois) • Wed, Oct 6, 1937:  Their Eyes Were Watching God is the third and finest of Zora Neale Hurston’s penetrating novels of her own people.With intelligence and compassion, Miss Hurston tells the story of Janie, and of the three men she loved and lived with. Read More→