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.

“Success or Failure, All’s to Do Again”

Edna Ferber

Failure is no picnic, nor the fear of it, but the prospect of success can be just as scary. Actually, in some ways success can be scarier. It shakes up the status quo; failure is more likely to maintain it— you can continue to dance with the devil you know. Like Edna Ferber, it’s possible to view success and failure as intertwined rather than as polar opposites.

Most writers blessed with long, prolific careers usually produce a mix of books that are popular and/or critical successes along with other books that are relative failures. Some fail to reach their audience; others don’t match the quality of the authors’ other works. Since success can be as paralyzing as failure, best just to keep writing,  and repeat after Edna Ferber: “Success or failure, all’s to do again.” Read More→

Sylvia Plath

sylvia plath

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was a gifted writer of poetry and fiction whose life ended all too soon. Triggered by the death of her father when she was eight years old, a deep-rooted depression took root and led to a life of struggle. She made no pretense about the degree of her pain in her writings. Plath’s poetry is part of the “confessional movement,” frank and revelatory about her personal life and innermost thoughts.

As her depression deepened, her family and success weren’t enough to keep her from taking her own life. She was only thirty, and had two small children. After her death, more of her work was released, and continues to be widely studied writings. Colossus was the only work published during her life, and her Collected Poems, edited and published by her husband Ted Hughes after her death, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982. Read More→

16 Slightly Absurd Quotes by Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein sure had a way with words —many, many words. Many of them were beautiful and wise; and just as many delightfully perplexing. Here are a few favorites of the latter variety:

“Nothing is more interesting than that something that you eat.”

“Whenever you get there, there is no there there.” Read More→

What’s the biggest mistake beginning writers make?

Willa Cather

Dear Literary Ladies,
What is the biggest mistake or miscalculation aspiring writers make when first starting to send their work out? There’s usually no feedback, so what’s the single most important lesson to keep in mind?

When I left the University of Nebraska after graduating and went to New York City, I wanted to write after the best style of Henry James —the foremost mind that ever applied itself to literature in America. I was dazzled. I was trying to work in a sophisticated medium and write about highly developed people whom I knew only superficially. Read More→

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1956) by Patricia Highsmith

The talented mr. ripley by patricia highsmith cover

From the original review in the Bridgeport Telegram, February 1956.  Tom Ripley, hero of this story by Patricia Highsmith, is indeed talented, in peculiar ways. His are the talents which make a successful criminal ingenuity, a flair for luxury, the ability to turn any situation to his own benefit. A chance meeting in a New York bar becomes for him an avenue to easy living in Italy — on someone else’s money.

Curiously enough, he has few gifts beside the aforementioned, and few real interests. He has no friends of either sex; he is a completely self-centered individual who believes in taking what he can get.

As his Italian mission draws to a close, unaccomplished, Ripley soon sees that it has become necessary to turn to murder to secure a continuation of his very pleasant position. He is not one to blanch at such a necessity. Soon he is involved in the precarious business of covering up his tracks. Read More→