Virginia Woolf on the Path from Reading to Writing

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from renowned English writer Virginia Woolf.

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Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25th, 1882 in Kensington, London. She was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household.

Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed, and, consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a notable historian, author, critic, and mountaineer. He was a founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work that would influence Woolf’s later experimental biographies.

The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half-sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia’s several nervous breakdowns. After her mother and half-sister, she quickly lost her surrogate mother, Stella Duckworth, as well as her cherished brother Thoby, when he was in his mid-20s. She was, however, able to take courses of study (some at degree level) in Ancient Greek, Latin, German and history at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London between 1897 and 1901. This brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women’s higher education

Her most famous works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando, and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own, with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Woolf suffered from severe bouts of mental illness throughout her life, thought to have been what is now termed bipolar disorder. She spent three short periods in 1910, 1912 and 1913 at Burley House, which is described as “a private nursing home for women with nervous disorder.” Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued with few breaks throughout her life.

Woolf committed suicide by drowning in 1941 at the age of 59.

“For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system it weakens so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.”

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Every since I can remember I have loved books. I learned to read early and easily, and my comprehension levels were always well advanced for my age. Books felt to me what watching TV must feel like to other people. I was transported right into the action, the emotion, into whole different worlds with different ways of thinking and doing things. I felt most alive, most like I was becoming future myself when I was reading.

During my 6th grade year, I volunteered to work in my school for part of my lunch period. It was so quiet in there, and it smelled like books rather than sweaty kids like the rest of the building. My job was to put the returned books back on the right shelves, but most of the time I just walked the rows and ran my hands over the worn spines. I flipped through the ones with dragons or spaceships on the front and scoffed at the ones about cheerleaders and love.

The ones I took home I could never put down. I read in the dark after my mother insisted we go to be until she grew tired of trying to force me and asked that I only keep to my room and keep quiet.

My father and his father loved reading too, and I often stole books with subject matters much too advanced for me from their collections.

I loved reading so much, and then I became a teenager, and between the depression and trying to be cool, I forgot all about reading. Then I became an adult and life got too busy for books. At first, I was busy falling in love and making a home. Then I was busy fighting for love and always working harder to build a better and better home. And no matter what there never seemed to be enough time for love and home and work and friends and sleep and reading.

Things have changed. Reading has come back to me. I realized that I had let something I loved go and I wasn’t at all happier for it. I realized I wanted something for myself. I remembered how good it felt to learn things and see the world in new ways. I remembered how reading made me feel more like myself all those years ago. So, I went looking for my old friend, my first love, and I found that she had been waiting for me all along to return. We picked up right where we left off, and we’ve been going strong ever since.

I’ve also come back to writing, another old love from my childhood. I’ve come a long way since those old angsty journals, and I want to go further still, and I know that in order to get there I can never take reading or writing for granted again. I have to make them a priority in my life along with love and home and work and friends and sleep. With them, never behind. Not when I can find the time, but when I make the time!

I wish I had learned this lesson a long time ago. If I had spent more time with books than I may be a better writer now, or at least a better person. But I am still grateful for the time I had, without having experienced the magic of words being worked on me I would never have craved such power myself, to wield over other minds and time itself.

I am grateful that books never leave you entirely and that reading is a patient and understanding friend who will let you leave and return as often as you wish. I have come back to my first love and friend, and I found that our passion for one another never really waned. I had only been a stupid human who forgot what life was really about, doing what makes you happy.

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If you like this post, check out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + important reads from others, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

See also: Short and Sweet Reviews // Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

Featured image via George Charles Beresford [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Short and Sweet Reviews // Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

I’m new to Virginia Woolf, but I wish that I had begun reading her work years ago. Like Jane Austin I assumed that her writing was shallow, all romance, and marriage, and manners. I mean, all of that was covered in this book, but there was so much more. I was wrong, so very wrong, but I’m growing and learning like everyone else.

In Orlando: A Biography Woolf tells the story of a nobleman born in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He joins the queen’s court, becomes a favorite, falls in love with a princess, get his heartbroken, and all the while works at becoming a poet, but none of that compares to the adventure of his miraculous transformation. Orlando, at the age of 30 turns from Lord Orlando to Lady Orlando and lives for over 300 years more.

“For here again, we come to a dilemma. Different though the sexes are, they intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what it is above.

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography

Obviously one of the major themes covered is gender and the ways gender shapes the way we act and the choices we make and the choices that are available to us. Surprisingly Woolf is critical of both men and women and our assumptions about the ways the other thinks. Men do not understand women, and women do not understand men because both refuse to believe that the other has the very same feelings, qualities, wants, and needs.

Another is time and change. Orlando lives a very long time and sees the world change around him and later her. Her inner world goes through many changes too, and he/she struggles to understand who she is and what she wants to be against the backdrop of “the times” which are always changing and seem always to be at odds with people living in them.

“I’m sick to death of this particular self. I want another.”

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography

A lot of time is also spent on literature and the life of a writer. In the moments when mass production and critique was the focus of Orlando’s life, I had the feeling that I was reading an inside joke between Woolf and the writers of her time. I got the jest, but I’m hoping through further reading I can gain a deeper understanding of Woolf views on the subject.

Woolf covers all this as well as wealth and privilege, society, individuality, and, of course, love.

But the real interesting bit about this book is the dedication. Orlando has been called “the longest love letter in literature.” The character of Orlando was inspired by Woolf’s close friend and lover, the writer Vita Sackville-West. At the time of its writing, their affair was waning. Vita, the more adventurous and fickle of the two was moving on to other lovers.

In fact, many of the other characters were also pulled from real life as well, and I imagine I will be reading about Woolf’s personal history for a long while to come.

The style was a shock, at first. From the very beginning, it reads like an old fairytale. The language is flowery, complicated and hard to follow, at first. After a few chapters, it becomes beautiful and poetic, interesting and lively. There is a lot of description and not much dialogue, and sudden jumps through time, which can be hard on the brain too, but I promise it is well worth the effort to stick with it. I have never read anything quite like this.

I am afraid my little review here has done the book very little justice, and you’ll just have to read it for yourself to understand how amazing this story is. As for me, I am firmly a Virginia Woolf fan from here on out and have already picked up a copy of Mrs. Dalloway to read next.

“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.”

― Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography

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If you like this post heck out my weekly-ish newsletter for some existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering + some interesting reads from others. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Check out Vita Sackville-West on the necessity of writing and Virginia Woolf on space to spread the mind out in.

Featured image via Book Republic

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Vita Sackville-West

Hello, hello, and welcome to the middle of the week, dear readers. If you are feeling a little run down or if Friday is feeling a little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes.

For my contribution this week, I have chosen a quote from the author and poet Vita Sackville-West.

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Victoria Sackville-West was born at Knole House near Sevenoaks, Kent, the only child of Victoria and Lionel Edward Sackville-West, 3rd Baron Sackville, who were cousins. Her mother was the illegitimate daughter of Lionel Sackville-West, 2nd Baron Sackville and a Spanish dancer, Josefa de la Oliva (née Durán y Ortega), known as Pepita. Christened Victoria Mary Sackville-West, the girl was known as “Vita” throughout her life to distinguish her from her mother.

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Vita Sackville-West was a prolific author, poet and memoirist in early 20th-Century Britain who is known not only for her writing, but for her not-so-private, private life. While married to the diplomat Harold Nicolson, she conducted a series of scandalous amorous liaisons with many women, including the brilliant Virginia Woolf. They had an open marriage.

Both Sackville-West and her husband had same-sex relationships. She frequently traveled to Europe in the company of one or the other of her lovers and often dressed as a man to be able to gain access to places where only the couples could go.

Gardening, like writing, was a passion Vita cherished with the certainty of a vocation: she wrote books on the topic and constructed the gardens of the castle of Sissinghurst, one of England’s most beautiful gardens at her home.

She published her first book Poems of East and West in 1917. She followed this with a novel, Heritage, in 1919. A second novel, The Heir, dealt with her feelings about her family. Her next book, Knole and the Sackvilles , covered her family history.

The Edwardians and All Passion Spent are perhaps her best-known novels today. In the latter, the elderly Lady Slane courageously embraces a long suppressed sense of freedom and whimsy after a lifetime of convention.

In 1948 she was appointed a Companion of Honour for her services to literature. She continued to develop her garden at Sissinghurst Castle and for many years wrote a weekly gardening column for The Observer. In 1955 she was awarded the Gold Veitch Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society. In her last decade, she published a further biography, Daughter of France and a final novel, No Signposts in the Sea.

She died of cancer on June 2, 1962.

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.

Vita Sackville-West, in a letter to Virginia Woolf

Before I get into what this quote means to me, I want to touch on how awesome it is that Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf had an affair. I am probably the last to know about this but I still think it’s a beautiful thing. I mean,  just read these letters! I’m in love with both of them already. *swoon*

Sorry, I get excited when I learn that famous women were just like me.

As for the quote, it’s one of the truest sentences I have ever read on the subject of writing.

Every day without writing is a day not lived to the fullest. Writing gives the day meaning and purpose. It is a way of stopping time so that you can investigate a moment, a lifetime, and everything in between.

Every day without writing is a day that has gone unnoticed and undocumented. The day has slipped through my hands and is all but forgotten. Without writing, I can’t prove it ever happened. I can’t prove I existed at any other time, form, or mindset other than I do at this moment. Without writing, I have lost time, and time is all I have.

Every day without writing is a day I have not been myself. Sometimes that is good, but sometimes it feels like a sin. To let a day go by without pulling yourself out and letting your mind contemplate all that it sees and feels is to commit a cruelty on yourself and the world. When you write, you tell a truth about yourself and all people. To deprive humanity of it is a disservice to the species.

All artist, if and when they are able, should take hold of every day and squeeze all the truth they can from it. We have a responsibility to document the world inside ourselves and the world without. We have a responsibility to preserve time. We have a responsibility not to let a moment go by unnoticed.

No one writer or artist can do it on their own. All creative people must work together and tirelessly to fill every day with all the days that came before, documenting who we are and what we have done, and will do. Make the time matter. Take a bit of your time and share it with someone else. Share it with the whole world. A book, a painting, these things are the closest we have to time travel and proof of the past.

Fact or fiction, it doesn’t matter. It all happened, and it all comes from, and is about, the human mind and experience.

Write every day if you can. Share it if you can too.

Don’t let time slip by unnoticed and empty.

Fill it up with yourself and then pull from it all that you can.

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P.S. Apparently Woolf even wrote a whole book based on Vita!

The gender-bending character in Woolf’s Orlando, in fact, was based on Sackville-West, and the entire novel is thought to have been written about the affair — so much so that Sackville-West’s son Nigel Nicolson has described it as “the longest and most charming love-letter in literature.”

Brain Pickings

P.S.S. For LOLs you have to check out The Collected Sexts of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf

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Quote via A Woman to Know Tinyletter by Julia Carpenter

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Original image via Unsplash

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Virginia Woolf

Hello, hello, and welcome to the middle of the week, dear readers. If you are feeling a little run down or if Friday is feeling a little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes. My contribution is from English writer Virginia Woolf.

6765Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25th, 1882 in Kensington, London. Woolf was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household. Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed, and, consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a notable historian, author, critic, and mountaineer. He was a founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work that would influence Woolf’s later experimental biographies.

The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half-sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia’s several nervous breakdowns. After her mother and half-sister, she quickly lost her surrogate mother, Stella Duckworth, as well as her cherished brother Thoby, when he was in his mid-20s.[6] She was, however, able to take courses of study (some at degree level) in Ancient Greek, Latin, German and history at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London between 1897 and 1901. This brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women’s higher education

Her most famous works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando, and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own , with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Woolf suffered from severe bouts of mental illness throughout her life, thought to have been what is now termed bipolar disorder. She spent three short periods in 1910, 1912 and 1913 at Burley House, which is described as “a private nursing home for women with nervous disorder”. Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued with few breaks throughout her life.

Woolf committed suicide by drowning in 1941 at the age of 59.

“When I am grown up I shall carry a notebook—a fat book with many pages, methodically lettered. I shall enter my phrases.”

// Virginia Woolf

Notebooks are among my favorite things and lately I do not go anywhere without one. I have kept the advice of Robert Lewis Stevenson close to my heart like gospel. I have kept on me both a book to read and a book to write in, sometimes two.

The notebooks to write in include my daily journal where I write about my emotional state and on the facing page write five good things that happened that day. Even if it was a bad day, I have to come up with five good things. I think it has helped change my perspective on what a bad day really is.

My other notebook is thinnner. I use it as a sort of editorial calendar for this blog. Each page is a full week but I may go to a two-page spread and use the facing page for notes about posts I’d like to write. It’s new and I’m still getting the hang of it. I like it because it is a reminder that the writing is never really done. After today’s post, I need to start on tomorrow’s post. After that is the day after tomorrow’s post, and so on….

I have also noticed that writing ideas out by head seems to generate new ideas in a way that typing on a screen just doesn’t. I now carry a legal pad in my bag to outline posts and writing projects. I like the feel of a

I like the feel of a pen and paper and I love the look of my own handwriting. When I write by hand if feel connected to what I am saying. I feel like it is the real me coming through from my mind and heart out of the pen and onto the paper. A good notebook is warm and inviting, it is sweet and loving, it is a true friend and the definition of a soul mate.

It might sound like I am exaggerating but try carrying a notebook around with you for a good period of time. Writing in it every day, many times a day, and see if you don’t feel the same. After a while, you and your notebook will be inseparable and you will wonder how you ever lived without one.

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Featured image via Pixabay

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Virginia Woolf

I know, I know, I’m late, but I really wanted to put some thought into this week’s quote. It’s a simple quote but sometimes the simplest things can be quite profound. This week’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday is dedicated to the great Virginia Woolf.

Adeline Virginia Woolf, born on January 25th, 1882 to a privileged family of free-thinking parents, was an English writer and one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century. She began writing at an early age and published her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1915. She became famous for her nonlinear prose style, especially noted in her novels Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.

I am again ashamed to admit I have not read yet another classic writer. I have always wanted to read Woolf’s work but I wasn’t sure if her work was something I’d be in to. What I do know is that Woolf, as a person, has fascinated me. THroughout her life Woolf suffered from mood swings and severe bouts of depression. She is thought to have had what is now known as bipolar disorder.

Woolf is said to have had a confrontational relationship with her doctors. She may have been a victim of “male medicine”. In her time there was a relative lack of understanding when it came to mental illness and the treatment she was given may not have been what she needed. It is believed that she was sexually abused by her half-brother’s when she was young and that may have contributed to her mental state.

She eventually committed suicide, by drowning, in 1941 at the age of 59.

I like to have space to spread my mind out in.

– Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry dated 5 September 1926.

I can’t say exactly what Woolf means by “spreading her mind out” but it means something very specific to me. There are times when my thinking feels like something that happens physical. It feels like octopus tentacle reaching out and searching here and there for something to feel and explore. The tentacles are of course covered with suckers on one side that stick to and pick up things.

My mind literally feels like it spreads out into the space around me, or into the book or article I am reading, or into and around the person I am talking to. It explores the environment and collects the shiny and interesting bits for later. When I get home and everything gets quiet all those bits get brought out of my minds pockets and are spread out, categorized, and put away for later.

The quote also made me think about how I use the spaces I call my own. Our spare bedroom has come to be called the “creative room” by my girlfriend. I have two desks, a book shelf, a small area for crafts, two chairs for reading in, and my snakes, Delilah and Ava, are housed in there. I thought I would write in there but lately I have found I like to write on the couch next to my girlfriend instead.

I still need the room but I don’t use it for what I had originally thought I would. I find that when I go in there I like to just sit at the desk, and look out the window, and think. Or I swivel around in the chair and I play some music. Or I put my feet up and read some essays. I take a lot of notes in there too. I have realized it isn’t so much the place I go to do my “serious work”, I go in there to let my mind wander, to let it spread out.

I have also been thinking that with summer finally coming around, and with it the urge to spend my evenings outside under a tree in the cool grass, maybe there are other places I could spread my mind out in too. IT’s possible that with more space to spread out in my mind might go further. I’d love to have my mind fill up a whole park, or maybe a space by a peaceful lake, hell why not take a drive out west and let my mind take up a whole mountain side!

We all need space to spread our minds out in. For creative types this is where the magic happens, it might even be considered the “real work”. Human brains have to get lost sometimes, that how we stubble upon something interesting. So go spread out somewhere, and then write about what you find.