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.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura ingalls wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957) gained fame with autobiographical writing about growing up as an American pioneer in her Little House series of books for young readers. Born in Pepin, Wisconsin, she traveled from state to state with her family, and thus, didn’t experience conventional schooling.

Though she was self-taught, she managed to get her teaching certificate at the age of fifteen. Shortly after she married and helped her husband work the farm that they lived on. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Wilder got encouragement from her daughter Rose as well as the time that she needed to start writing.

The first of the autobiographical  Little House books, Little House in the Big Woods, was published in 1931; Laura  was well into her sixties at the time. The best known of the series, Little House on the Prairie, was published a few years later. Wilder’s tales immediately appealed to readers of all ages. Read More→

Based Upon the Book: An Interview with Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë painting

It seems only fair that Charlotte Brontë, author of the beloved novel Jane Eyre (and others), which seems subject to continued film adaptations and will be in print for time immemorial, should have her say. That she’s been dead since 1855 is a mere technicality. Her first-person narratives provide incisive answers, needing only someone (that would be me) to ask pertinent questions:

How did you and your sisters first set about to get published?

Charlotte Brontë: We had very early cherished the dream of one day becoming authors. This dream, never relinquished even when distance divided and absorbing tasks occupied us, now suddenly acquired strength and consistency: it took the character of a resolve. Read More→

Classic Women Authors Tackle Writer’s Block

sylvia plath

Writer’s block is a subject that writers try to avoid thinking about, let alone experiencing. Conventional wisdom on what to do when one hits that proverbial wall is about as much fun as the malady. For example, “try thinking of writing as a job,” or “set deadlines and keep them” are two common ideas for unblocking. The first one is about as inspiring as doing laundry (especially for writers who already have a job); and if you could set and keep deadlines, then you wouldn’t be blocked in the first place, would you?

Learning how to deal with blocks is a critical component of the writer’s toolbox, though, so here’s a brief survey of what writing women, past and present, have had to say on the subject. Read More→

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (1937) – a Review

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

From the original review of Nightwood by Djuna Barnes in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 1937: This is a rare and tempting book, because it might be easily underestimated and just as easily overrated. The introductory praise by T.S. Eliot, which is meant to attract serious readers, will perhaps lead to a few of them to contradict his opinion; and certainly Mr. Eliot’s advice is the best way to understand a rather perplexing the book:

“I have read Nightwood a number of times, in manuscript, in proof, and after publication … for it took me some time to come to an appreciation of its meaning as a whole.”

It benefits from rereading
Having read it twice myself, in some parts even the third time, I can support Mr. Eliot’s claim that the book becomes more impressive with each rereading. Whether continued reading would increase one’s admiration still more, and whether Mr. Eliot’s numerous readings entitle him to a sounder judgment then someone less initiated, I am hardly able to say. But for the moment it seems to me the kind of book that would make an intense personal appeal to those, like Mr. Eliot,  whose view of life it corroborates.
Read More→

Am I talented enough to be a successful writer?

Anais Nin

Dear Literary Ladies,
Sometimes I wonder if I really have what it takes to be a successful writer. The desire is definitely there, but I’m not sure I have the talent. For those of us who don’t feel particularly “gifted,” what hope is there?

I didn’t have any particular gift in my twenties. I didn’t have any exceptional qualities. It was the persistence and the great love of my craft which finally became a discipline, which finally made me a craftsman and a writer.

The only reason I finally was able to say exactly what I felt was because, like a pianist practising, I wrote every day. There was no more than that. There was no studying of writing, there was no literary discipline, there was only the reading and receiving of experience . . . Read More→

The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (1946) – a review

The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald

The Egg and I is the book that put Betty MacDonald on the map. Not only did the book become a world-wide bestseller, the film version starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray was hugely popular as well. While many contemporary readers still adore the book, others are deeply disturbed by its blatant racism the against Native Americans as well as its classism and snobbery toward those the author describes as Neighbors with a purposeful capital. In fact, following the book’s publication, lawsuits against the author were filed by the Chimacum community.

Those who have read The Egg and I, we’d love to hear your comments on how this book reads with a contemporary view.

From the original review in the Valley Morning Star (TX), January 1946: The Egg and I  by Betty MacDonald is the funniest best-seller to top the nonfiction list in many seasons. It is largely the story of life on a wilderness farm-chicken ranch, while the first two chapters give an account of Miss MacDonald’s harum-scarum childhood. Read More→