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 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→


Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell (née Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson, September 29, 1810 – November 12, 1865) was a British author known for short stories and novels focusing on social classes, from the poor to the middle class to the rich. The upheaval of class boundaries, the industrialization of England, and women’s issues in the Victorian era were all themes of her work. So too was religion — her father and husband were both Unitarian ministers. She was often referred to simply as “Mrs. Gaskell.”

Gaskell’s mother died a year or so after giving birth to her. Her father wasn’t able to care for her, so she was sent to live with an aunt. They lived in Cheshire, England, which years later inspired her story, Cranford. Her aunt encouraged her to read classic books, which led to her love of writing. Her brother, who traveled widely, sent her books from near and far. Read More→


Jane Austen’s Reaction to Pride and Prejudice, her “Own Darling Child”

cover of Letters of Jane Austen

From a letter written by Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra, January 29, 1813: I hope you received my little parcel by J. Bond on Wednesday evening, my dear Cassandra, and that you will be ready to hear from me again on Sunday, for I feel that I must write to you to-day. I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child [here she refers to Pride and Prejudice] from London. On Wednesday I received one copy sent down by Falkener, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles and sent a third by the coach to Godmersham … The advertisement is in our paper to-day for the first time … Read More→


How Do I Become a More Effective Reader?

Doris Lessing by Roger Mayne

Dear Literary Ladies,

It’s important for someone who wants to be a good writer to be a good reader, right? Do you have any thoughts on becoming a more effective reader?

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. Read More→


The Golden Notebook (1962) by Doris Lessing

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

From the original review of The Golden Notebook in the Tucson Daily Citizen by John Barkham, June 1962:  Doris Lessing has long impressed me as an underrated novelist. Her stories of southern Africa, The Grass is Singing, and of lower-class English life in Five, combine form with expression in a manner perfectly suited to the respective environments. The Golden Notebook is far and away her most ambitious work to date — a long and complex novel which draws on all the talents and insights of this gifted woman.

It is no ordinary work of fiction, either in manner or matter. The publisher compare its heroine, Anna, with the “new woman” of Ibsen and Shaw. This is going further than I would, but unquestionably The Golden Notebook is going to be debated and analyzed by students of the novel for a long time to come. Read More→