By Trix Wilkins
She wrote with perseverance, passion, and no small amount of drive – but the best of her words were those she wrote with love. These are the things I’m learning from Little Women’s Jo March about writing, the craft that is necessarily a labor of love.
We can never be too young to write – and even start our own publication!
The March sisters’ Pickwick Portfolio…After reading this chapter in Little Women, did anyone manage to resist the urge to start one’s own little newspaper of sorts? (Or nowadays, a blog ;)) I love that all the sisters contributed to the publication, owned it, and that they explored different forms of writing: news, features, recipes, short stories, classifieds…
Little Women doesn’t say exactly when they started the paper. I like to think it was as soon as Jo could string a sentence together! Years ago I had the joy of working on our school newspaper with some of my closest friends – lots of experiments and fun, and felt very a la Jo March…
Loving people deeply is very much connected to writing
I wonder how many of the most lovable and unforgettable characters in literature are homages to real people, an outpouring of a writer’s core. Louisa pays tribute to her sister Elizabeth in her portrayal of Beth in Little Women. She also honors her other sisters, parents, even Laurie who was modelled on some of the men she loved and esteemed most.
Are not those we know best and truly our nearest and dearest? Can we write of people, really, without knowing them, know people without loving them? I could not have written of Laurie’s affection for Jo in The Courtship of Jo March, without knowing of that sort of perseverance.
Emotionally charged points in our lives serve as jumpstarts for creativity
It’s when we feel, that we write passionately, from the heart – and that is where compelling story begins. We write best about what is personal to us. Jo is grieving the loss of Beth; the loss of Laurie; the loss of what she had imagined to be her “castle in the air.” She then writes the “simple story” that wins her acclaim.
Mr March affirms the bewildered Jo, saying gently, “There is truth in it, Jo – that’s the secret. Humor and pathos make it alive, and you have found your style at last. You wrote with no thought of fame or money, and put your heart into it.”
These are the stories we come to love – the ones that ring with truth, humor and heart.
What a valuable thing a friend is, a friend we can share our writing with!
This is a must for any writer I think! A loved one, a friend, a family member…Someone who celebrates and cheers us on, whose acclaim makes the effort worthwhile even if they are the only one in the world to applaud.
Jo had her mother who encouraged her to write; her sister Beth who thought everything she wrote brilliant just by virtue of the fact she wrote it; her best friend Laurie, the first to know she had begun to submit her stories to newspapers, the first she celebrated their success with, the first to proclaim her to be “the celebrated American authoress;” Professor Bhaer, who advised her to write what would be of benefit to the mind, heart and soul.
I am indebted to so many for the mere fact that I have begun writing again, but I owe the most to my dearest friend and husband.
Poetry can be potent, and have unintended consequences
When Jo writes a poem following the passing of Beth, she sends it to be published – and Professor Bhaer upon seeing it in a newspaper decides to visit her, saying to himself, “She has a sorrow, she is lonely, she would find comfort in true love.” (Needless to say, she had no idea of his thinking so being such a consequence!)
(Not all poetry has such romantic results. I once wrote a poem for my husband while we were friends, and he didn’t get the hint. I suppose it wasn’t a romantic poem, so he was justified in construing it as a merely friendly gesture…Ah well, we got there in the end!)
Background photograph courtesy of Canva
Writing letters is important. A timely letter can change a life.
It’s one of the most moving parts of Little Women. When Laurie gifts a post office box for the use of the Pickwick Club upon his being received as a member, all sorts of letters begin to flow through them – one of which is written by Mrs March to her daughter Jo.
I write a little word to tell you with how much satisfaction I watch your efforts to control your temper. You say nothing about your trials, failures, or successes, and think, perhaps, that no one sees them but the Friend whose help you daily ask, if I may trust the well-worn cover of your guide-book, I, too, have seen them all, and heartily believe in the sincerity of your resolution, since it begins to bear fruit.
Go on, dear, patiently, and bravely, and always believe that no one sympathizes more tenderly with you than your loving,
Jo recognizes her mother’s letter to be “worth millions of money, and pecks of praise.” It becomes tucked away in her heart and mind as to how she might use the power of her pen – and reminds me what a privilege I possess, to be in a position to write such a letter to my children.
Back up precious pieces of writing, particularly complete manuscripts
I think every one who has ever produced anything personally precious must have felt the stab of betrayal, loss and grief upon reading that Amy had thrown Jo’s precious book into the fire. And consequently swiftly learned the lesson of making copies – including hard copies – of such precious works and keeping them somewhere safe…!
To write deeply we must read widely
Jo reads books from a century ago, three centuries ago, ten years ago – she reads history, travel, biography, romance…even books she’s not a particular fan of, she gives a go. (More details in 16 books the March sisters read.)
I didn’t realize how narrow had been my reading until I started to compare my reading lists with Jo’s, and have been pleasantly surprised giving books I never would have dreamed of picking up a turn (the Vicar of Wakefield I found myself devouring rather quickly, and Ivanhoe – once you get past the opening with the squires talking in the forest – was also a delight).
Reading disciplines are helpful…
I used to cringe at the word discipline. It used to suggest punishment, restriction, and worst of all, boring. My husband being one of those disciplined men who somehow manages to also be spontaneous, fun, and passionate, I’ve had to abandon this definition and admit that to possess discipline is rather an admirable thing.
Reading daily from something that refreshes the mind helps orient our thoughts to what we deem important; and when we come to writing, we can’t help but be influenced by the feelings and thoughts that come by during these times. We read in Little Women that Jo reads daily from her Bible, the crimson covered book Mrs March gave each of her girls at Christmas.
A change of scenery can help, but sometimes the best things are written close to home
Jo writes plenty of money spinners while in New York, but her greatest literary success isn’t full of exotic places, unpredictable twists, and colorful characters.
It’s full of the people she knows best, the home where most of her years have passed – all that is dearest to her. And despite the quietness, the lack of novelty, she’s still able to write – and write that powerful story as no one else could.