Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Thursday, April 8, 2010

How Virginia Woolf Became a Novelist

But to tell you my story-- it is a simple one. You have only got to figure to yourselves a girl in a bedroom with a pen in her hand. She had only to move that pen from left to right--from ten o'clock to one. Then it occurred to her to do what is simple and cheap enough after all--to slip a few of those pages into an envelope, fix a penny stamp in the corner, and drop the envelope into the red box at the corner. It was then that I became a journalist; and my effort was rewarded on the first day of the following month--a very glorious day it was for me--by a letter from an editor containing a cheque for one pound ten shillings and sixpence. But to show you how little I deserve to be called a professional woman, how little I know of the struggles and difficulties of such lives, I have to admit that instead of spending that sum upon bread and butter, rent, shoes and stockings, or butcher's bills, I went out and bought a cat--a beautiful cat, a Persian cat, which very soon involved me with bitter disputes with my neighbors.

Then I grew ambitious. A Persian cat is all very well, I said; but a Persian cat is not enough. I must have a motor-car. And it was thus that I became a novelist--for it is a very strange thing that people will give you a motor-car if you will tell them a story. It is a still stranger thing that there is nothing so delightful in the world as telling stories. (from Professions for Women by Virginia Woolf)

So fast forward to today's writer who does pretty much the same thing:


Finish something

Submit it

Be grateful (hopefully) when someone actually pays money to read our work.

That's the best part. Not so much the money, since it's never enough anyway, but to know that people have paid money for your book. And to recognize, with gratitude, that "there is nothing so delightful in the world as telling stories."

Don't you love little tales like this that make it all sound so easy? Well, it may not be easy but it is simple. Write, finish, submit, and be grateful for every small success!

P.S. I am grateful for the prizes I've won lately on blogs, and here's another one I'm entering over at Lola's blog Sharp Pen Dull Sword Go check it out!


  1. Thanks for that, Karen! I love Virginia Woolf, too.

    Sometimes we really just need to remember to chuck everything else aside and WRITE!

  2. Thanks for that, Karen, neeed that as I have submitted lots of stuff lately and still waiting for replies.
    Will carry on with hope in my heart.

  3. I loved that little extract. And the fact that she bought a Persian cat with her first payment. That is SUCH a cool thing to do.

  4. I too have submitted things and still waiting for replies. But I do feel better for actually having sent things off. A big step forward for me.

    I love Virginia Woolf. She was a true artist.

  5. Amen to that!

    Lovely extract very apt and very inspiring, thank you!

    Take care

  6. That was an excellent excerpt. Lovely.

  7. What a wonderful post! :o)

  8. I wish the writing journey was as easy as Virginia purports. Then again, if wishes were horses we all could ride(:

    Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the excerpt.

  9. Andrea, I know what you mean. It takes us 3 seconds to read the summary of how she became a novelist. It takes some of us 3 decades to get there.

  10. Thanks for reminding us. It really is simple. :)

  11. A simple, but true post. Write submit, repeat. If we don't try, we'll never know.

  12. Congrats on your win over at Christine's blog - hooray! It's the same process today, but it's sounds so much simpler when she tells it.

  13. Write, finish, submit...and wait. (It's the waiting that kills me.)

  14. Oh yes, the hear back, to get edits back, to see cover art, through typesetting, for that first print run, for sales, and for royalty checks....tell me again why we want to do this?

  15. One of my major essays at school was on Virginia Woolf. I spent about four months reading nothing but, and near frazzled my brain! She is amazing,but oh-so-intense. It's been a long while since I have gone back to her work, but the lighthouse awaits... :)

    Thanks for this, Karen. It is all encouragement to those of us who plod ever onwards!

  16. Thanks for the shout out, Karen. :o)

    Happy Friday/Weekend!

  17. Thanks for stopping by my blog!! I'm officially a follower of yours. I always like meeting other writers. ;-)


  18. Welcome Justine, and thanks for following and commenting!

  19. Virginia Woolf is indeed both a fascinating woman as well as novelist. The piece you quote here is much more accessible than the novels. They require a great deal from the reader, which is good. It took me a whole semester in a graduate course focused totally on her books before I could appreciate the complexities of theme and character. But Woolf is worth the effort. Your conclusion--to write, finish something, submit--is right on. I think Ms. Woolf would applaud.

  20. I love the excerpt. The history of writing fascinates me, especially as it applies to women.

    I know she simplifies the process to make a point, but wouldn't you love to know what went on in her head as she waited? Although, I guess the cat sort of answers that question - that was a big celebration right there.

  21. Ann, I take my Virginia Woolf in small doses, a paragraph or two at a time, or a succinct quote. Like "The writer's task is to take one thing and let it stand for twenty." I read To the Lighthouse and loved segments of it, other parts lost me. I had to read it for a class, or I probably wouldn't have stuck with it.

    Kirsten, I'm with you. Which is why I believe she's studied at the university level, more due to what she means to women's literature and woman as writer than anything else. And I imagine her sitting dreamy-eyed at the window daily, waiting for the post to arrive. Such a lonely vigil, so of course a cat was necessary.

  22. Woolf is amazing crazy cool. Her quote is timely, as I've been thinking about a blue Toyota FJ Cruiser for some time now.

    Just to write, send, wait.

    I will continue to do so.

    PS: Lola rocks my socks, too! ;)

    Happy weekend to you!!

  23. Hi Karen,

    Thanks for your comments on my blog.

    I love this piece on Virginia Woolf. Thanks for sharing it.

    I think I have the order backwards. I have the cat... now I just need to sell something.

  24. Oh my goodness I completely forgot about 'Moments of Being' on my shelf. Now I gotta read it! :) Lovely post! :)

  25. Terresa, (I had to redo your name 5 different names until i got it spelled right lol), MaryC and AA-- thanks for stopping by and commenting/and/or following! This has been my weekend to visit and discover new blogs. It's been fun!

  26. I have only read a little by her. Did you know,V Woolf stood up to write? I cannot imagine doing that,but many authors did. I only know because I wrote about writing desks on my blog, and came across the info.

  27. Glynis, Maybe that was why she was so skinny? Hemingway also stood up to write, because he was concerned about his gut/beer belly and didn't want to get fat.

  28. It sounds so easy.

    Maybe I just need a cat.