10 Lessons on Writing from Jo March and Louisa May Alcott

If I could Write a letter to Jo March I would thank her for the lessons in writing she taught me.

If I could Write a letter to Jo March I would thank her for the lessons in writing she taught me.

I learned many useful lessons on the writing life from my dear friend and real Victorian girl Jo March and her creator Louisa May Alcott.  Here are a few of the lessons learned.

1–Writing is important, and should be done regularly, daily if possible. I met Jo in 5th grade. Her example, fictional though it was, made me realize that born writers need a writing routine. Jo had a time and a place that she wrote everyday.

“Jo was very busy up in the garret, for the October  days began to grow chilly, and the afternoons were short. For two or three hours the sun lay warmly in at the hight window, showing Jo seated on the old sofa writing busily, with her papers spread out upon a trunk before her.”

2–What sells isn’t always what you want to write or what you should write. Well I think Jo did enjoy writing her shocking thrillers and they did pay for Beth’s coat and her little luxuries but they were never going to make her famous. Louisa too made a steady income with “cheap” serialized thrillers but in the end as Professor Bhaer helps her see they left her empty. It wasn’t until she wrote  something completely different that she made a place for herself in history. Some moderns think Louisa’s famous novels are preachy and insincere. I never found them to be so. I prefer to think that she meant what she said and really believed each of us has the power to influence the world for good. 

3–Writing pays but not much, having a day job really helps. Jo worked both as Aunt March’s companion and later as a governess and ran a boarding school while continuing to write. Louisa taught, worked as a nurse and did a variety of odd jobs in addition to her writing until eventually she made enough to be the main support of her family. No one gets famous straight away and if you do get famous it doesn’t mean you are rich.

4–When you have the urge to write nothing else will substitute for it; not nursing, not child care or teaching, or acting or home duties will take away that desire so quit beating around the bush, sit down and write.

5–Writing needs to be edited. Jo went over and over her writing making changes, she labored over it. It did not come out fully formed ready to be published. A fact that still surprises non-writers.

6–Fans are likely to be disappointed when they meet you. I love it in Jo’s Boys when some eager fans come to call and she tries to get away with playing the housemaid. Alcott writes:

“The youngest aged twelve, could not conceal her disappointment and turned away feeling as so many of us have felt when we discover that our idols are very ordinary men and women.

“I thought she’d be about sixteen and have her hair braided in two tails down her back. I don’t care to see her now,” said the honest child walking off to the hall door.”

 Of course in the age of the internet our readers will be disillusioned early on.

7–Writers outwardly look perfectly ordinary, as the above quote attests to. (well maybe not all writers and not in Alcott’s day, her friend Henry David Thoreau always looked a little wild) That means wearing Oxfam clothes and whimsical scarves is not a prerequisite for looking authorly.

8–To get published you must submit your work. You submit your work by giving it to the editor of a publication. This is basic but vital information that is not covered in your school syllabus.

9–Editors may be harsh and make you want to give up ever writing ever again but that doesn’t mean you should.

10–Rejection and mixed reviews are all part of the writing process. This is a lesson repeated in Little Women (Good Wives) and Jo’s Boys. 

How about you, what did Jo March teach you?

PS. It doesn’t have to be about writing.


Reading Between the Flowers-What that bouquet is really saying

meadow with colorful wild flowers

The language of flowers is rich in symbolism, a secret code waiting to be cracked.

Hark whats that? There’s a ring at the door. A parcel for you!

Nestled in the folds of tissue paper is a bouquet from the young man you hope will be your beau, but what does it all mean?  Is it love? Is it friendship or kind regards? There must be some significance in someone sending you a slip of a nettle tree  and a sheath of oats right?

Right you are. This is a bouquet with a message.

Thankfully we have The Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway at hand to help us read between the flowers.

The languageof FlowersSo give those geranium leaves a rub, if they are lemon-scented it signifies and unexpected meeting, how exciting. But if they are rose scented it means preference, that’s good too.

Rub, rub. Sniff, sniff. And again just to make sure.

They’re nutmeg geraniums, an expected meeting.  It looks like you might have an invitation.

Now for the thorny question of the nettle tree, concert, an invitation to a concert!

That explains the oats which naturally signify the witching soul of music.  

This is all very well but how does he feel about you? Is it merely an overture of friendship or something more?

It is your lucky day because the star of the show is a single thorn-less rose, early attachment, that is very promising. It isn’t love but it’s more than friendship. He always was the cautious type.

So with heart all a twitter you plan your posy for the concert, something to send a message of course. Cape jasmine perhaps? Or would it look desperate to say ‘I am too happy‘ about attending a concert? What if it turns out a dreadful bore, no better go with something safe.

Violets perhaps, modesty is always good, though modesty and purity are even better, white lilies, which will look striking with your dark blue dress, but there aren’t any left in the garden. What to do?

In the end you decide to keep it simple and wear his thorn-less rose adding a sprig of rose-scented geranium. A return of early attachment with a preference for him. It’s all settled.

The significance of Flowers

It is enchanting to imagine the messages that might be sent between lovers with the aid of this little book or coded messages between friends.  However I think the symbolism of flowers and was of more importance for coat of arms, art and poetry than for posies.  For example sheaves of wheat engraved on a silver tray a symbol of riches or plenty would make a good wedding or anniversary gift.

I am sure that young girls of a certain age in 1884, when this book was first released, would have had as much fun composing bouquets as my friends and I had when we chanced upon it in a used book store.

From time to time I will include a coded message for you gentle reader to muse over.

For this week what emotion should you call up if you find someone has slipped a French Marigold and sprig of Frog Ophrys on your pillow? And who would send such a message?

I’d love to hear your guesses.

The answer to be revealed next Friday.


Time to Enter The Blogosphere

Hmmm, what to blog about....

Hmmm, what to blog about….

In my research and wanderings through the internet I often find the information I seek, whether recipes, how to’s or top tips, is contained on other peoples blogs . I love to hear other peoples perspectives on life, writing, cooking and history.

If I enjoy hearing other peoples views maybe someone out there would be interested in hearing my views. No?

So I prepare to join the milieu.

They say you should write what you are passionate about so I asked myself:

  • What am I really passionate about?
  • What is a subject I never get tired of?
  • What can I ramble on about every week and not get bored?
  • What subject can possibly tie into my fiction writing?

The Answer: the 1800’s, especially the late 1800’s and it hit me:  I really am an eighties girl after all, an 1880’s girl.

I hope you will share my joy and fascination as I stroll through history, discovering odd facts and forgotten people as much as I do.

But be warned, don’t expect any great scholarly work or highbrow discussions on political change, just interesting oddments I gather while researching my novels and the sidelines that distract me.

Come join this Victorian girl as she enters the blogosphere.