Writing Advice from Classic Authors

No Time, No Privacy, No Self-Discipline: Blasting Through Writing Excuses

Too much to do and too little time, no room of one’s own, and no willpower to simply sit down and write—those are the Big Three of “why I’m not writing” excuses. Those obstacles were as true for women writers in earlier generations as they are for today’s writers, as I discovered in researching the writing lives of classic authors of the past for The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life.

Sure, you’re busy, but you may feel less overwhelmed when you learn that Harriet Beecher Stowe had seven children, and was in charge of all the household duties, aside from being responsible for bringing in at least half of its income. Still, she somehow found the wherewithal to complete Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that’s been credited with shifting public attitude about slavery when it was published in 1853. In times past, a writer was truly alone with the blank piece of paper.

Now, with most of us working on computers, fully wired, a new daily battle is fought against the constant distraction of the Internet, that sneaky demon lurking behind the blank page on the screen. How did writers past, the ones who ultimately succeeded gloriously, find time, privacy, and the will to write? Here are some nuggets of wisdom from several Literary Ladies: Read More→


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My Head is My Study

One of my favorite quotes on writing is from Louisa May Alcottthe author of Little Women and numerous other classics.  She said: “My methods of work are very simple and soon told. My head is my study, & there I keep the various plans of stories for years sometimes, letting them grow as they will till I am ready to put them on paper. … While a story is under way I lie in it, see the people, more plainly than the real ones, round me, hear them talk, & am much interested, surprised, or provoked at their actions.”  (from a letter to a journalist, 1887)

Your Portable Study
During the writing of my first ten or eleven novels, I always had from one to four babies, toddlers, and preschoolers underfoot. I desperately loved writing fiction, and I longed for the day when I could sit down at the typewriter, take a deep breath, close my eyes in solitude, and think about what I wanted to say. Read More→


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Writer’s Block: Lower Your Standards to Write Better

By Kristi Holl of Writer’s First Aid. Do you have the dreaded cognophobia? It’s a Latin term that translates literally as “fear of thinking,” or fear of facing your own thoughts. You may experience it as writer’s block. “A writer must feel comfortable expressing herself in words, letting them flow before critiquing them or subjecting them to examination,” say Linda Metcalf and Tobin Simon in Writing the Mind Alive. “Many people who have an ambition to write are held back at the starting gate by some form of this [cognophobia] condition.”

Judgments From Within

Is silencing those premature judgments a problem for you? Do you sit frozen at the keyboard, considering and then tossing out ideas and sentences that sound “dumb” or “trite” or ”silly” or void of any literary content at all?

I do it–every time I try something new or try to write on a more difficult level or subject. Like this month. I took a work-for-hire assignment a couple of weeks ago that is giving me fits. It’s for an age group new to me, and it’s a form of writing I’ve never tried before. After my first effort, the editor very kindly asked me to go back to the drawing board and try again. (He was right to ask.) If I don’t snatch myself bald before I’m done, it will be a miracle. Read More→


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Ready for Fame? Classic Authors on Being in the Public Eye

We all know that writing, in its essence, isn’t about publishing. At the risk of stating the obvious, writing is a journey, one that, if you follow it with passion and heart, will take you where you need to go. But admit it. You’ve fantasized at least once about what it would be like to be a famous, bestselling author. I’ll admit that I’ve daydreamed about it at least once or twice—per day, that is.

What I learned from the authors I got to know while researching The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life is that fame has its pleasures and advantages, but has its down side, too. The classic authors whose writing lives unfold in the book all craved recognition, as well as financial independence that was rare for women of their times. None were “overnight successes,” though it may have appeared so to the world. Hard work, setbacks, and disappointments most often preceded their breakthroughs. Read More→


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Success and Failure: An Intertwined Pair, not Polar Opposites

In a 1928 letter to her friend Virginia Woolf, British author Vita Sackville-West pondered, “Is it better to be extremely ambitious, or rather modest? Probably the latter is safer; but I hate safety, and would rather fail gloriously than dingily succeed.” Most of us would rather not fail at all, gloriously or otherwise. That’s why we’re content to settle for modest success, instead of taking bold steps needed for resounding success. To fail at that which we most long for seems like a terrible fate.

Truth be told, I’ve been hedging my bets in the failure and success department. I’ve scrupulously avoided the more risky path of narrative writing in favor of more sure forms of writing for which I knew I’d be paid (I know, not a small thing). It’s come to the point now that I’ve run out of excuses for avoiding my heart’s desires, especially now that I’ve learned that for the twelve classic authors featured in The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life.  Failure wasn’t the flip side of success, but its occasional companion. Read More→


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