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.

Should I take time off work to write full time?

Flannery O'Connor

Dear Literary Ladies,
Miraculously, I’ve saved a bit of money, and I’m considering taking a few months or a year off of work to write full time. I want to see if I can make a go of it, once and for all. Is this a good idea, or would I be putting too much pressure on myself? 

It might be dangerous for you to have too much time to write. I mean if you took off a year and had nothing else to do but write and weren’t used to doing it all the time then you might get discouraged too easily. Of course I don’t know. But don’t anyhow say to yourself that you will give yourself so long to find out what you can do—because these things don’t work on time limits. Too much time is as bad as too little.

—Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), from a letter to a friend

Jackson, Shirley

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson’s (1916-1965) writing has made her one of America’s most influential authors. Two genres of writing, in particular, put her on the literary map:  imaginative tales of psychological horror, as well as prettied-up accounts of everyday family life. Her stories and novels, though undeniably competent and well written, have often disturbed readers with their insistence on exploring the dark side of human nature.

Jackson’s haunting short story, “The Lottery,” catapulted her to fame in 1948, and her output continued at a fast clip — six novels, four children’s books, and dozens of short stories — all throughout the years of raising her four children. She famously used her children as inspiration — not always flattering — in her fiction and nonfiction. Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons were early “momoirs” that inspired the likes of Erma Bombeck, and were glossy versions of family life that wasn’t quite as fun as the pictures she painted in her pages.

Jackson’s novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle was made one of Time Magazine’s “Ten Best Novels” in 1961. She has consistently intrigued readers with her thrilling tales. Many of her works have been adapted to movie, theater and television. Read More→

Edna Ferber Writes Fiction Because She Can’t Help Herself

Edna Ferber older 2

Excerpted from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle; by Ruth Brindze – Sun, Nov 9, 1924. She started writing during a vacation 17 years ago–and the vacation is still lasting! Like a fairy godmother, she touches her typewriter with her wand and creates cities and people just as she wants them. “I find writing so difficult that I wonder how I ever can do it. And when I finish a novel I try to console myself and say, ‘No one can really write a novel.’” That is what Edna Ferber thinks of her profession and herself.

As a matter of fact she ought to look at things entirely differently. Writers usually have to climb the shaking ladder to popularity via freezing cold attics and empty larders. But there was none of that for her. The first novel by Edna Ferber writer was accepted by the first publisher to whom she sent it. So was her first short story. Ever since there has been such a demand for her stories that she is kept busy all the time. Read More→

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by Carson McCullers

Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

From the 1940 edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston:  Carson McCullers was only twenty-two when she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, but her literary style was worthy of her insights into the human spirit. The novel was acclaimed as the work of a prodigy by critics and writers.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is concerned primarily with the struggle of human beings to build bridges of communication between their separate islands of loneliness. The motif of the book is the effort of all the main characters to extort from Singer, a deaf mute, some answer to their confused desires. Around Singer, a man of mystical understanding, the other characters move in an intricate dance of hope and despair: Mick, and adolescent ardently longing to express herself in music; Jake Blount, a wild blundering reformer; Dr. Copeland, the African-American patriarch. Their appeal to Singer is the appeal of all humanity to a mute, cryptic universe. Read More→