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Advice to a young writer from Louisa May Alcott

January 20, 2020

Quoted from Life, Letters, and Journals, ed. Ednah D. Cheney, p.399-400

To Mr J. P. True

Dear Sir,

I never copy or “polish,” so I have no old manuscripts to send you; and if I had it would be of little use, for one person’s method is no rule for another. Each must work in his own way; and the only drill needed is to keep writing and profit by criticism. Mind grammar, spelling, and punctuation, use short words, and express as briefly as you can your meaning. Young people use too many adjectives and try to “write fine.” The strongest, simplest words are best, and no foreign ones if it can be helped.

Write, and print if you can; if not, still write, and improve as you go on. Read the best books, and they will improve your style. See and hear good speakers and wise people, and learn of them. Work for twenty years, and then you may some day find that you have a style and place of your own, and can command good pay for the same things no one would take when you were unknown.

. . . I have so many letters like you own that I can say no more, and give you for a motto Michael Angelos’s wise words :Genius is infinite patience.

Your Friend, L. M. Alcott

[Quoted from the book “Louisa May Alcott: Life, Letters, and Journals” pubished shortly after her death provides much insight into the life of a woman writer in the 1800s, now much in view in the current film version of “Little Women.”]

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