If you are looking for a wonderful writer’s resource book to add to your library or present to a fellow writer as a gift, The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life is a perfect choice.
Author Nava Atlas explores how twelve celebrated women authors “expressed their views on the subjects of importance to every writer– from carving out time to write to conquering their inner demons to developing a ‘voice’ to balancing the demands of family life with the need to write.” Through the diaries, letters, memoirs, and interviews of Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, Madeleine L’Engle, L.M. Montgomery, Anaïs Nin, George Sand, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Wharton, and Virginia Woolf — all writers “who left a fair amount of writing on various aspects of their lives as writers” — as well as her own commentary, Nava proves that the lives and lessons of those classic women writers resonate with contemporary female writers.
The book is a beautiful compilation. Each chapter features photographs of the authors, as well as other images related to their lives, work, and the times in which they lived. For instance, there are photographs of an early print edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Louisa May Alcott’s portrait on a postage stamp, Jane Austen’s birthplace. It could easily be classified as a “coffee table book,” proudly displayed among other pictorial volumes for visitors to peruse.
Whether the authors included are already personal favorites or the reader is just getting to know them, there is much to be learned from them. As one reviewer noted, the book functions as a support group for struggling writers because it offers not just insight into the process, but also inspiration for those days when it seems the words will never come together in a coherent sentence. The chapters focus upon several critical aspects of a writer’s life, commencing with Becoming a Writer, followed by Developing a Voice, Tools of the Trade, Conquering Inner Demons, The Writer Mother, Rejection and Acceptance, Money Matters, and Father Along the Path. On the topic of finding one’s own literary voice, Atlas ponders whether it is a question of actually finding that voice as opposed to “being reluctant to use the one that’s already lurking inside.” Considering the times in which many of the authors spotlighted in this text lived, that is indeed a relevant and thought-provoking question. As she observes, “[m]ost of us have at least an inklin of what form our writing voice should take, if only we might find the courage to reveal it.” Contemporary women writers juggling career and home may be surprised to find that the quest for work-life balance is not a twentieth century invention. In 1841, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe commented on the fact that her children needed her “whole attention,” and queried, “Can I lawfully divide my attention by literary efforts?”
The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life is the type of book that a writer will turn to again and again over the years for encouragement, to be reminded that one’s struggle to perfect a written product is not unique, but an experience shared by some of the world’s most renowned authors, and to commiserate with other women who have faced rejection from publishers and the public alike. Most of all, The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life is a reminder that writing is an intensely personal experience and writing for the sheer joy of the experience is the purest and often most satisfying form of writing. Perhaps Anais Nin described it best: “How quickly the minutes fly when you are writing to please your heart. I pity those who write for money or for fame. Money is debasing, and fame transitory and exacting. Bur for your own heart . . . Oh, what a difference!”
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The comment posted by Amy the Bookish was selected at random, so a copy of The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life was sent to Amy!