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.

Keeping the Faith: Madeleine L’Engle’s Long Years of Rejection

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle original cover

I would challenge anyone to come up with a story that better illustrates the fine line between rejection and acceptance than Madeleine L’Engle’s:  “A Wrinkle in Time was almost never published,” she wrote. “You can’t name a major publisher who didn’t reject it. When we’d run through forty-odd publishers, my agent sent it back. We gave up.” Most editors thought it too dark for children.

After some time, L’Engle made contact with John Farrar of Farrar Straus Giroux through a friend of her mother’s, and the rest is publishing history. Published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time is still in print, with millions of copies sold. It has the distinction of having won some of the most prestigious publishing awards, as well as being one of the most frequently banned books of all time. Read More→

Willa Cather

Willa Cather

Willa Silbert Cather (December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947) created a body of work that represented consummate craftsmanship of the written word. She first worked as a journalist, starting with a position at the Nebraska State Journal while still a college student in the 1890’s and after graduating she started at McClure’s magazine in New York City; making it to a managing editor position.

Cather felt that working in the fast pace of newspaper and magazine production helped her to work off her flood of exaggerated, novice writings.

Her novels, known for their stark beauty and spare language, reflect her philosophy that writing is an art as well as a craft (and a skill) that can be honed and polished. She advised aspiring writers to spill out all their overwrought, adjective-laden prose, allowing clearer focus and language to come through in one’s writing.Cather’s considerable wisdom has been fully preserved, especially in the numerous interviews she granted despite her professed disdain for the press and with fame in general. Read More→

L.M. Montgomery’s Literary Pilgrimage to Concord, Mass.

L.M. Montgomery in her 30s

Given how many fans of L.M. Montgomery visit “Green Gables” in Cavendish, PEI each year, I find it fascinating to read about Montgomery’s own literary pilgrimage to Louisa May Alcott’s family home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts. There she made a side trip from Boston while on a visit  to her publisher, L.C. Page, in November of 1910.

“Concord is the only place I saw when I was away where I would like to live,” she writes. “It is a most charming spot and I shall never forget the delightful drive we had around it. We saw the ‘Old Manse’ where Hawthorne lived during his honeymoon and where he wrote ‘Mosses from an Old Manse,’ the ‘Wayside’ where he also lived, the ‘Orchard House’ where Louisa Alcott wrote, and Emerson’s house. It gave a strange reality to the books of theirs which I have read to see those places where they once lived and labored.” Read More→

How can I find my unique writing voice?

Willa Cather as a young woman

Dear Literary Ladies,
My desire to be a really good writer exceeds nearly all else. But like a lot of artists, I fear what I want most. It’s like I’m tripping over my own feet. I’m self-conscious and that “trying too hard” style shows up in my writing. How can I get out of my own way and find my unique voice?

The business of writing is a personal problem and must be worked out in an individual way. A great many people ambitious to write, fall by the wayside, but if they are the discourageable kind it is better that they drop out. No beginner knows what [she] has to go through with or [she] would never begin. Read More→

Review of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” by Willa Cather

The awakening by kate chopin - cover

A Creole “Bovary” is this little novel [The Awakening] of Miss Chopin’s. Not that the heroine is a Creole exactly, or that Miss Chopin is a Flaubert — but the theme is similar to that which occupied Flaubert.

There was, indeed, no need that a second Madame Bovary should be written, but an author’s choice of themes is frequently as inexplicable as his choice of a wife. It is governed by some innate temperamental bias that cannot be diagrammed.

This is particularly so in women who write, and I shall not attempt to say why Miss Chopin has devoted so exquisite and sensitive, well—governed a style to so trite and sordid a theme. She writes much better than it is ever given to most people to write, and hers is a genuinely literary style; of no great elegance or solidity; but light, flexible, subtle and capable of producing telling effects directly and simply. The story she has to tell in the present instance is new neither in matter nor treatment. Read More→