Jane Austen’s No Excuses Approach to Writing

Jane Austen's desk
Jane Austen had plenty of excuses to stop writing. She lived in a time when it wasn’t completely acceptable for a woman to pen novels, let alone publish them. In fact, she kept her novels secret for years, hiding her manuscripts away whenever guests arrived. She wrote multiple volumes before any of her writing was published. When she finally did publish her work, she had to rely on her brother to negotiate with the publisher, and she published under a pen name. Her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published fifteen years after she started writing it.

Writing itself was difficult for Jane. By her own admission, she was a bad speller. Her desk was tiny. Just imagine what she’d say to you if you complained that your computer crashed. At least we have ballpoint pens! Even on her deathbed, with nothing more than pen, ink, and paper, Jane Austen managed to complete Persuasion and revise Northanger Abbey.

Yet there was a time when Jane didn’t write much. During the years she lived in Bath, perhaps because of poverty or discouragement, she wrote very little. Later, when she went to live with her brother, she could have told herself that she hadn’t written in years and that it would be silly to go back to it. Thankfully, she chose to write.
The desk where I do most of my wriitng.

Most novelists have many of the same excuses. Though it’s now acceptable for women to publish novels, it can be awkward to admit you're writing another novel when you haven't published your first one. We’re luckier than Jane, in that we have word processors, laptops, and other technology to help us. What we don’t have is time. It takes ingenuity and sacrifice to fit writing into a busy schedule. And, like Jane, we can easily fall victim to discouragement. The moral of Jane Austen’s story for me is this: Write anyway.


  1. Thanks for this. I'm posting that picture of Jane's little writing table to my Facebook wall. Maybe it will remind me not to be such a Prima Donna about my own "requirements" to write.

    Funny how good we writers are about manufacturing reasons we can't "write anyway." Too hot, too cold, too noisy, too quiet, need coffee, too much coffee. There seems to be this huge reluctance to just sit down and let our brains focus on this one story/chapter/poem. It involves a sort of surrender to a part of ourselves set apart from the everyday. Once we get past this initial obstacle, the getting quiet, the words tend to come on their own, as if they were waiting there the whole time!

  2. I love how you put it, Carrie Ann. You are so right.

  3. Your comment about it not being acceptable to admit you write until you've published, caused some reflection. I'm inclined to think that it is acceptable, it just makes people ask those questions that bring out the writer's embarrassment about not being published, the when and how. It brings out the writer's insecurities, but I don't believe most others look on them as less. They are simply curious about a task that seems daunting to them and have not clue how long the process can actually take.
    Excuses can always get in the way and we need more people to remind us that we love it and to write anyway. Thanks.


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