The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life

Welcome to a site celebrating classic women authors who wrote in the English language. 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.

How can a writer deal with failure?

Edna Ferber

Dear Literary Ladies,
So many creative people are afraid to share their work with the world because they can’t risk failing. What words of wisdom can you offer to those of us who are willing to take that risk, and to bear inevitable failures with as much grace as possible?

In the working-day life of a professional writer success or failure is very likely to sum up much the same at the end. I don’t mean that failure is as pleasant as success. I’ve known both. Success stimulates the glands, revivifies the spirits, feeds the ego, fills the purse. Failure is a depressing thing to face. The critics rip your play to ribbons, audiences refuse to come to it; reviewers say your book is dull, or trite, readers will not buy it. You read these things, you hear them, you face them as you would face any misfortune, with as good grace as you can summon.

Success or failure, you go on to the next piece of work at hand. There may be a day of brooding or sulking or self-pity or resentment. But next morning there’s coffee and the newspaper and your typewriter, and the world. What’s done is done. Win or lose, success or failure, all’s to do again. If a lawyer or a doctor or a merchant or an engineer fails at a task it is, usually, a matter of private concern. But the failure of a playwright, an actor, a novelist, a musician, is publicly and scathingly announced and broadcast and published over an entire continent and frequently the whole civilized world. Often the terms of that announcement are cruel, personal, or even malicious, though this last is rare. Yet next day or next week, Read More→

L.M. Montgomery

L.M. (Lucy Maud) Montgormery

L.M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery (November 30, 1874 – April 24, 1942), born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, was a novelist and short story writer best known for creating the Anne of Green Gables  series. When she was less than two years old her mother died of tuberculosis, and her father left her to be raised by her grandparents. The author drew upon her habitat for the adventures of Anne Shirley, one of the sunniest characters in children’s literature. Her fictional heroine provided a contrast with her own life, which became increasingly filled with cares as she entered adulthood. Battles with ongoing depression increasingly took their toll.

Before getting published she worked as a teacher and then as a proofreader copy editor for the Halifax Chronicle. When she began writing short stories and poems she was mostly met with rejection. Upon the first acceptance of a poem, she wrote in her journal: “The moment we see our first darling brain-child in black type is never to be forgotten.” At age 21 she sold her first short story for five dollars, and never looked back. Read More→

How Mary Shelley Came to Write Frankenstein (1818)

Frankenstein 1831 inside cover

In the preface to  the 1931 edition of Frankenstein (originally published in 1818), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley tells of how she came to write her masterpiece:

The Publishers of the Standard Novels, in selecting Frankenstein for one of their series, expressed a wish that I should furnish them with some account of the origin of the story. I am the more willing to comply, because I shall thus give a general answer to the question, so frequently asked me—”How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?” It is true that I am very averse to bringing myself forward in print; but as my account will only appear as an appendage to a former production, and as it will be confined to such topics as have connection with my authorship alone, I can scarcely accuse myself of a personal intrusion.

It is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing. As a child I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to “write stories.” Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air—the indulging in waking dreams—the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents. My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings. In the latter I was a close imitator—rather doing as others had done, than putting down the suggestions of my own mind. What I wrote was intended at least for one other eye—my childhood’s companion and friend; but my dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed—my dearest pleasure when free. Read More→

The House of Mirth (1905) by Edith Wharton – a review

The House of Mirth

From the original review in The New York Times, December 30, 1905:  Rarely has any book aroused such universal interest or provoked such illuminating discussions as has The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Two years ago many a quarrel originated in discussing Candida’s virtue; this year, from pulpit to parlor, it is Lily Bart who is the main theme of conversation.

What a human grip also has on our sympathy, and what a complex creature she is, with her demi-monde longing for luxury, and her fine capacity for conscience. Many consider her no better than  Becky Sharp, and only attribute her refusal to sell herself to a careless disregard for consequences, while others find in her the true nobility of soul, whose many ignoble actions are due to force (or is it lack?) of circumstances beyond her control. Her final spiritual rejuvenation (and here there is no division of opinion) is due to the influence of her love for Belden. Read More→