Writing Advice from Classic Authors

Writer’s Block: Lower Your Standards to Write Better

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 condition.” Read More→

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Classic Women Authors on Fame and Fortune

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.

Fame has its pleasures and advantages, but has its down side, too. Many of the classic authors on this site admitted to craving recognition — and the financial independence that was rare for women of their times. Few 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 for Writers: An Intertwined Pair

It’s not easy to accept that success and failure for writers are intertwined, and it’s hard to achieve our dreams without taking risks.

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. 

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.” Read More→

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Self-Acceptance: A Hard-Fought Battle for Writers

It’s a tough task to attain the kind of self-acceptance that allows a writer to feel she deserves to own her talent and reap the rewards of hard work.

There’s a cartoon on my bulletin board of two caterpillars creeping along, with a butterfly hovering above them. One caterpillar eyes the butterfly suspiciously, and says, “You’ll never catch me going up in one of those things!” Maybe it isn’t what the cartoonist intended, but I see it as a metaphor for the sad state of women’s self-esteem.

We’re destined to become glorious butterflies, yet we persist in perceiving ourselves as caterpillars, opting for crawling the safer but less exciting ground, instead of allowing ourselves to take flight. Read More→

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Harriet Beecher Stowe & Madeleine L’Engle on Motherhood & Writing

When discussing the challenges faced by women authors, one of the questions asked with startling regularity is why it has always been so difficult to master the work / life / motherhood and writing balance. 

It was grueling for Harriet Beecher Stowe in the nineteenth century; and while it may have been somewhat easier for Madeleine L’Engle in the twentieth, it was just as guilt-inducing. For those of us who write today, there are still no easy answers.

I’m not one to bandy about gender stereotypes, but it’s hard to dispute that in traditional relationships women still bear the greatest share of childcare and household management. Read More→

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