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

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson’s (December 14, 1916 – August 8, 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→

On the Art of Fiction, According to Willa Cather

Willa Cather

By Willa Cather, originally published in The Borzoi, 1920:   One is sometimes asked about the “obstacles” that confront young writers who are trying to do good work. I should say the greatest obstacles that writers today have to get over, are the dazzling journalistic successes of twenty years ago, stories that surprised and delighted by their sharp photographic detail and that were really nothing more than lively pieces of reporting. The whole aim of that school of writing was novelty—never a very important thing in art.

They gave us, altogether, poor standards—taught us to multiply our ideas instead of to condense them. They tried to make a story out of every theme that occurred to them and to get returns on every situation that suggested itself. They got returns, of a kind. But their work, when one looks back on it, now that the novelty upon which they counted so much is gone, is journalistic and thin. The especial merit of a good reportorial story is that it shall be intensely interesting and pertinent today and shall have lost its point by tomorrow. 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→