10 Writing Tips from Virginia Woolf
Years: 1882 - 1941
Notable Works: Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando
Quote: “The flower bloomed and faded. The sun rose and sank. The lover loved and went. And what the poets said in rhyme, the young translated into practice.”
Trivia: Woolf and her husband founded and ran Hogarth Press. Woolf published her own works from there, but she and her husband declined to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses, for they deemed it too long for them to hand print.
1. “Any method is right, every method is right, that expresses that we (as writers) wish to express.”
Write the way you want to write. Don’t be afraid to experience. Rules are made to be broken. . . well, some rules. Writing without punctuation would be unfair to the reader.
2. “Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame.”
Develop a habit of writing. Pick a day, an hour to do nothing but write. You can do anything you want during this time: write your novel, use writing prompts, write freehand or use the computer. Whatever as long as you’re writing habitually.
3. “But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles.”
Doesn’t this quote go well with the previous one? When you’re writing, write for yourself first. Do and say what makes you happy. The point of doing all this is to get your creative juices flowing (or, loosening your ligaments).
4. “It is much more important to be oneself than anything else.”
This is true for any facet of life. In the literary world, be yourself. Write the way you want to write. Why try to be a second-rate Jane Austen or Tom Clancy when you can be a first-rate you?
5. “And the truth is, one can't write directly about the soul. Looked at, it vanishes; but look at the ceiling, at Grizzle, at the cheaper beasts in the Zoo which are exposed to walkers in Regent's Park, and the soul slips in.”
I have these things in my eyes called floaters. They’re tiny bits of eye debris that float around. If I’m looking off at a wall, I can clearly see the floaters, but if I try to look directly at them, they float away so quickly. That’s the exact same thing as what Woolf is saying about writing about the soul. Don’t try to write the next big American novel that makes a huge revelatory comment about society, the soul, God, whatever. Just write your story. If the soul (or whatever your big comment is about) plays a part, it will shine through without your trying so hard.
6. “I must try to set aside half an hour in some part of my day, and consecrate it to diary writing. Give it a name and a place, and then perhaps, such is the human mind, I shall come to think it a duty, and disregard other duties for it.”
This goes back to the second quote on the list. As you build your writing habit, it will be something you not just want to do, but have to do.
7. “It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.”
I love this quote because it shows that even a writing great like Virginia Woolf experienced what other writers and aspiring writers experience. It’s okay to doubt yourself. Everyone has done it. Like Woolf, just keep going.
8. “If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”
Deep, huh? You might ask, what does one have to do with the other, especially in writing? That’s a good question. I think this quote goes deeper than just everyday honesty and lies. If you’re honest about your one truth, about who you are, then you have a much easier time uncovering the truth about your characters.
9. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
Woolf wrote this at a time when authors were men, plain and simple. Women were property of their husbands back then. This quote was a revolutionary statement when she made it. She is advocating for women to have their own money so they can afford to write and a quiet place of her own to write.
Today, our society is different, but that doesn’t mean the quote no longer applies. All authors need money to write (no one wants to be a starving artist, right?), and they need their place to write without interruptions.
10. “If a diary were not written rather faster than the fastest type-writing, if I stopped and took a thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are diamonds of the dusthead.”
This is a wonderful quote, too. When you’re writing just for fun and practice, don’t hesitate. Just write until you have everything down. Perhaps you’ll write something without thinking at all. Perhaps that something will inspire a story – a novel – for you, or maybe it will inspire a great scene for your next book.
Much thanks to Viola van de Sant from interestingliterature.com.