Louisa May Alcott’s Advice to Aspiring Writers

Louisa May Alcott

Even after Louisa May Alcott had already achieved fame as an author, she continued to answer letters from readers. 

Louisa seemed rather smitten with her own narrative and didn’t mind repeating it for her own benefit and that of others. She was generous in her advice to aspiring writers — readers of her work, especially young women — who sought words of wisdom for achieving success.

On occasion, Louisa professed disdain for writing what she called “moral tales,” but any reluctance on her part gave way to willingness to write them anyway, because, as she said, they paid well. The money she earned allowed her to care for her dear mother and family.


There’s no easy road to success

Here’s a response Louisa sent to one female reader, a Miss Churchill, asking her advice on achieving success. It was written on Christmas Day, circa 1878:

“I can only say to you as I do to the many young writers who ask for advice —there is no easy road to successful authorship; it has to be earned by long and patient labor, many disappointments, uncertainties and trials.

Success is often a lucky accident, coming to those who may not deserve it, while others who do have to wait & hope till they have earned it. This is the best sort and the most enduring.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“I worked for twenty years poorly paid, little known, and quite without any ambition but to eke out a living, as I chose to support myself and begin to do it at sixteen.

This long drill was of use, and when I wrote Hospital Sketches [see LMA’s Civil War Journals] by the beds of my soldier boys in the shape of letters home I had no idea that I was taking the first step toward what is called fame. It nearly cost me my life but I discovered the secret of winning the ear & touching the heart of the public by simply telling the comic & pathetic incidents of life.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“Little Women was written when I was ill, and to prove that I could not write books for girls. The publisher thought it flat, so did I, and neither hoped much for or from it. We found out our mistake, and since then, though I do not enjoy writing “moral tales” for the young, I do it because it pays well.

“But the success I value most was making my dear mother happy in her last years & taking care of my family. The rest soon grows wearisome & seems very poor beside the comfort of being an early Providence to those we love.” (from a letter to a reader, 1878)

. . . . . . . . . .

Louisa May Alcott quote on success

10 Life Lessons from Louisa May Alcott
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She credited toil rather than talent

Because her version of the path to success was paved with wearisome toil, any credit to her own talent was notably absent. She was, by many standards, an immensely gifted writer, and so when she did become rich and famous, she had trouble reconciling that version of herself with the one she was used to:

“It is droll, but I can’t make the fortunate Miss A. [referring to herself] seem me, and only remember the weary years, the work, the waiting, and disappointment,” she wrote to her sister Anna in 1870, “all that is forth in my mind; the other don’t belong to me, and is a mistake somehow.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“After toiling so many years along the uphill road — always a hard one to women writers—it is peculiarly grateful to me to find the way growing easier at last, with pleasant little surprises blossoming on either side, and the rough places made smooth by the courtesy and kindness of those who have proved themselves friends as well as publishers.” (— from a letter to her publisher, 1869)

. . . . . . . . . .

Reconciling the struggling, hardworking version of myself with the wealthy, bestselling one is a problem I’d gladly grapple with, given the opportunity. Wouldn’t you?

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women: A Book I Come Back to for Comfort and Guidance

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