Dear Literary Ladies, Part One: Writing Advice From Classic Women Authors

Katherine Anne Porter 1931

Wouldn’t it be great to get writing advice from women authors — some of the most iconic voices in literature — even (or especially) those who are no longer with us? Here’s your chance! In this first of a multi-part series of roundups we call “Dear Literary Ladies” We’ve “asked” classic women authors some of the universal questions about writing and the writer’s life, and found the answers in their first-person musings.

Peering through the lens of the past is an intriguing way to examine issues and questions that linger into the present. It’s now easier and more acceptable for women to write both for pleasure as well as profit, to be sure. However, it’s still challenging to find the will and focus to do so while raising children, to get that first work published, to make a living by writing, and above all, to have courage to send one’s words into the world.

It’s still painful to face rejection, and daunting to experience writer’s block. Self-doubt is part of the creative process, no matter what the era. There are no hard and fast rules. Louisa May Alcott responded to many of her readers’ letters asking for advice on writing. To these she responded with variations on “Each person’s method is no rule for another. Each must work in [her] own way, and the only drill needed is to keep writing…”

Dear Literary Ladies, Part One

Don't you wish you could get writing advice from your favorite women authors, especially those who have created great classics? Here's your chance! We've "asked" some of our classic women authors the burning questions about the writer's life and tools of the trade, and found the answers in their first-person musings.

What's your best advice for beginning writers?

What's your best advice for beginning writers, or really, anyone who’s trying to write regularly? Octavia Butler answers ...

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How can a writer balance solitude and camaraderie?

When I’m alone working, I feel the need for feedback; and when I’m in the company of other writers and talk about my work, I feel I’m seeking too much outside validation. How can a writer balance the need for quiet and solitude, with the desire for camaraderie? Sarah Orne Jewett answers ...

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Should writers draw characters and plots from real life?

How much should real life supply a writer with characters and plots? Should we be looking for people to base our fictional characters on, and stories upon which to model our plots? Ivy Compton-Burnett answers ...

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Should you write for an audience, or to please yourself?

Do you  write for an audience or market as a work is in progress, or does that ultimately make for a less desirable outcome? Is it better to write to please yourself? Edna Ferber answers ...

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How do you develop the discipline to write?

If the words don’t flow right away, I’ll get up and find some fine excuse not to stick with it. How do you develop the discipline to just sit down and write? Madeleine L'Engle answers ...

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Do I have enough wisdom to be a good writer?

Sometimes I feel that I don’t have enough life experience to be a good writer. Should I wait until I’ve lived more fully, and gain some wisdom, before I bare my soul to the public in writing, or should I just plow ahead? Zora Neale Hurston answers ...

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Is it better to be a modest success than to risk failure?

I admit that I’m afraid to fail— and then look foolish to myself and others. Do you think it’s better to stick with what you do best, rather than stick your neck out and possibly fail? Vita Sackville-West answers ...

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Any quick tips for plot and character development?

Can you share some quick insights on how you developed plots and characters? Louisa May Alcott answers ...

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What goes through your mind when you feel blocked?

You seem like such a prolific author, but like the rest of us who live by our pen, you likely feel blocked from time to time. How does this uncomfortable and sometimes scary feeling play out in your mind? Fannie Hurst answers ...

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Does one need connections to get published?

I’ve often heard it said that “it’s who you know that matters.” Well, I don’t know anyone in the publishing world. Does that mean my work doesn’t stand a chance of being looked at seriously? Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings answers ...

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How can I develop a distinctive writing style?

How do I go about developing a distinctive writing style—one that will catch editors' attention, and that readers everywhere will recognize as my unique voice? Katherine Anne Porter answers ...

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