Writing Advice from Classic Authors

5 Valuable Writing Tips from Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) conducted a writing life that can best be described as one of perseverance. Best known for her award-winning young adult science fiction, particularly A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle offered much wisdom on writing and the writing life in her memoirs.

L’Engle often wrote of the struggles of what the called the triad of “mother-wife-writer.”

When she was writing, she felt guilty that she wasn’t doing enough for her children, and when she was mothering, she felt awful that she wasn’t writing. It was typical angst of midcentury mothers, who took on the lion’s share of childrearing. Read More→

Categories: Writing Advice from Classic Authors Comments: (1)

Classic Women Authors on “How Do Writers Get Ideas?”

How do writers get ideas? — that’s a question often asked of published authors, but which defies easy answer, if it can be answered at all.

Most often, ideas seem to find you, not the other way around. Of course, something you see, hear, or read can ignite sparks of inspiration, but the day-to-day work habits you develop can fuel the inception and development of ideas.

Here, Louisa May Alcott, Willa Cather, and Madeleine L’Engle share a common technique: they consciously allowed seedlings of ideas to blossom in their heads before setting them to paper.  Read More→

Categories: Writing Advice from Classic Authors Comments: (0)

Classic Women Authors Ponder the Question, “Why Write?”

Those of us who scratch out sentences and paragraphs that we hope to turn into publishable prose have often paused to ponder the question, “why write?” When it goes well, it can all-consuming, like a passionate love affair. But when the going gets tough, or when self-doubt creeps in, “why” can become “what’s the point?”

Here, five classic women authors weigh in on questions related to the existential “why” of writing—for whom are you writing, and for what purpose? As in all matters of art, there’s no consensus here. George Sand seemed to believe that one writes to shine a light for others. Read More→

Categories: Writing Advice from Classic Authors Comments: (0)

No Time, Privacy, or 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, if perhaps even more valid and not just excuses to dawdle.

Sure, you’re busy, but you may feel less overwhelmed when you learn that Harriet Beecher Stowe (at right) 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. Not to mention some of the crushing losses she endured. Read More→

Categories: Writing Advice from Classic Authors Comments: (2)

“My Head is My Study”: On Developing Plots and Characters

On the subject of developing plots and characters, one of my favorite quotes on writing is from Louisa May Alcott, the 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)

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. Developing plots and characters is challenging when time is at a premium. Read More→

Categories: Writing Advice from Classic Authors Comments: (1)