The hardest thing about writing is writing – I can’t remember where I heard that, but sometimes it’s the truth. Sitting down in front of the blank screen can be a harrowing adventure. I never have a lack of things to write about, but my old negative loop of “someone else probably already wrote about this, and they probably did it better than you ever will” starts playing, making self-expression extremely difficult. These are times when I find it really helpful to get re-inspired.
Wouldn’t it be great to have Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen or Anais Nin all hanging out in your kitchen, offering you support and wisdom, food for thought to continue on? Don’t we all need an older, wiser friend telling us to keep at it, keep writing, don’t lose your voice, don’t give up?
This is exactly what Nava Atlas’ new book The Literary Ladies Guide to The Writing Life has become for me. I can turn to any page and find inspiration, guidance, and wisdom from some of the most amazing writers of the last two centuries.
I was inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s thoughts, gleaned from a personal letter to a friend in 1853, on earning money as a writer when there is a household to run (something I encounter every day): “Now, if you will keep the babies and attend to the things in the house for one day, I’ll write a piece, and then we shall be out of [this financial] scrape.” This one line was enough to make me put aside the laundry and dishes, and instead dive back into my daily writing assignment with gusto.
Nava found a strong similarity between most of the authors – they had “at least one person, if not several, who supported and stood by them.”
In an age when most girls didn’t continue their education past childhood, Louisa May Alcott, Anais Nin, Willa Cather, and Virginia Woolf were all encouraged to pursue their writing careers by loved ones and friends. Reading their accounts of “suffering for their art” and finding solace in the talent of other authors reminded me that I do have an incredible community of creative, productive people in my life who have helped me continue on this path of self-expression.
One section of this book made me smile, because its subject returns to my thoughts so often:
“Say you’ve gotten a whole slew of great reviews and a tiny number of negative ones. Which ones are you most likely to remember (or more precisely, still be obsessing about) five years hence?” This is something the glorious writer Madeleine L’Engle found herself ruminating on throughout her career as well. If someone as amazing as Madeleine, the author of A Wrinkle In Time, was worried about bad reviews, I guess I’m in good company. Between this book and the radio show Being Here, hosted by Ariel & Shya Kane, which offers such great reminders on how to stay present, I have found myself writing and producing more work, in an easier, more natural flow. I like this!
This book feels like a collection of good friends with lots of advice to share, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is drawn to writing.