Monday, July 12, 2010

Women Rock!

Recently, I took a trip to the Boston area. I’m not an expert on the city but I love Boston for many things. The writer in me loves it for its rich literary history.

Louisa May Alcott’s house (in nearby Concord) is wonderful. When visiting, I was struck by the fact she wrote part one (the original published version) of Little Women on a tiny tab of a desk her father built between her two bedroom windows. The surface is about the size of a one-armed school desk. She wrote her book by hand with a pen and an inkwell. And still did all of the work required of women in the nineteenth century, while wearing a long dress and a corset.

By the time she lived in this house, her father had moved the family 22 times over the course of 30 years. They were struggling financially. Their father, though a great mind of Transcendentalism, was not so concerned with the more mundane aspects of life.

While in Boston, I also saw the building that once housed the top publisher, Tichnor and Fields. Louisa approached Tichnor and Fields to publish her work, but Mr. Fields advised her to give up writing and concentrate on teaching. However, he was kind enough to lend her $40 to help her with the kindergarten she’d established in Boston to support herself while writing. Louisa didn’t listen.

She once said, “I will make a battering-ram of my head and make my way through this rough and tumble world.” The battering-ram didn’t give up – she found another publisher. And later she repaid Mr. Fields’ loan with a note thanking him for his help.

I’ve struggled with finding a balance between all of the things that I have to do and my writing. It’s all about making choices and being smart with your time. It’s also about letting go of things that don’t matter. I’m not just talking about cutting into your TV time. I’m talking about shutting out everything else and getting your mind in a place to be able to create.

Now, if Louisa, a Victorian woman, can sit down at a crude tongue-shaped desk with a messy inkwell and in two months produce a book still beloved today, then who’s to say that we can’t overcome our own obstacles to writing and publishing? Oh, yes, I forgot – in a long dress and corset.

What are some of the ways that you’ve found to make writing a priority? Or, for those of you who are published, what efforts did you make to get your first book published?

PS – Mr. Fields gladly acknowledged his mistaken advice and later accepted four of Louisa’s manuscripts for “The Atlantic.”


  1. Love Louisa May Alcott, Lisa. Fun post. I remember visiting Concord. Wonderful. I, too, love the Boston area for the history and rich literary heritage. I visited Walden pond and Longfellow's house during that same trip. You're right, many of these great writers of the past struggled with poverty and very harsh conditions and yet they were able to craft classics that readers still enjoy today. How did they do it? I marvel just to think about the mess of the ink . . . and yes, the long dress and corset. I think I get hot now. Sigh.

    I've found setting goals helps me prioritze. I'm able to identify my next steps better and then say no to everything else that doesn't move me toward those goals.

    But, it's not a silver bullet. We are still women. I'm expected to have dinner on the table, laundry done, and keep a relatively clean house (and that one is questionable some days) while I'm pounding out the next Great American Novel.

    I don't know how they did it. But when I get so tired I don't want to continue on, their example encourages me that it can be done. So I lift my head and keep typing.

    Fun post. :)

  2. Reminds me of the old say, "Ginger Rogers did it backwards and in high heels."

    Women have great powers of endurance and perseverance. If I care about something enough, eventually I get it done.

    My head may not be a battering ram (great image!), but I'm familiar with the concept. When I prepared for both marathons, my mantra was "I can do anything for two minutes." Around hour 5 I really wanted to stop. Really, really, really. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other and I have the finisher medals to prove it.

    In the countdown for the GH entry deadline last year, that focus helped me get to THE END. Balance, goals, priorities, passion - and an understanding that the writer's journey is a long hual process not an overnight instant success - those are what I hold on too.

    Great post, Lisa.

  3. New Mantra: The Battering Ram - LOVE IT!!

  4. I have no suggestions to offer. I scoured my brain and couldn't come up with anything. So I definitely need to channel some of that battering ram energy!!

  5. Excellent post, Lisa.

    You know, one major difference between her time and ours is that it's a-okay for us to pound out pages while bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan. It's tough but we're "allowed" to do it. Few Mr. Fields for us to contend with! At least, few Mr. Fields who'll pat is on the head tell us to go play with the kindergarteners just because we're women.

    Whew! With all that going for us, how can we fail... as long as we perservere!