Three lessons from the homes of great writers

Guest post by Beverly Varnado

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the homes of a few great writers. Standing in the spaces they once occupied has at times left me awestruck, but somehow I pulled myself together enough to look for the messages they left behind for others who might want to follow.  

Here’s what I found:

Writers read.

A lot. Poet Carl Sandburg’s home in Hendersonville, North Carolina testifies to this. Every room in the Sandburg house including hallways, bedrooms, and even the dining room features bookcases brimming with volumes. I stared at floor to ceiling shelves and wondered if this was merely an unread collection. However, at the time of our visit, the forest service was replacing thousands of bookmarks noting passages of interest with acid free slips to preserve the books. Sandburg’s book collection was in fact so vast; a family librarian had to be appointed.

How did all that time spent reading affect Sandburg’s writing? He won three Pulitzer prizes. 

Writers can sometimes think they’re too busy writing to find time to read. I’ve thought that sometimes, but I remind myself of Sandburg’s library, and am inspired to carve out the time to pick up the next book.

Writers don’t make excuses about the trappings. They write.  

They don’t wait for the perfect circumstances to begin. In Louisa Mae Alcott’s room at Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, I was amazed at what she referred to in her writings as her “writing desk.” It was no desk at all, only a small wooden appendage. Made by her Father, it folded out from a windowsill.  From this humble station, she wrote the classic Little Women

It’s tempting to think we need all the right equipment to be a writer―a new computer, the perfect desk.  Alcott teaches us that writers simply write amidst whatever circumstances they find themselves and with whatever tools they already have.  

Writers know it’s never too late to start. 

At Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri, she penned the first of her Little House series at sixty-five years old. Inspired by her daughter Rose’s career as a novelist, she picked up a soft lead pencil and bravely began. With my own eyes, I saw one of the blue-lined tablets she used while sitting at her kitchen table to create one of the most enduring series of children’s literature in the world. She continued writing the series, which ended with These Happy Golden Years, written when she was seventy-six years old.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri. Courtesy of Beverly Varnado

It’s easy to think that too many birthdays, or too much time in another arena of work mean the writing life has passed us by, but a quote sometimes attributed to George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), who many think wrote one of the finest novels in the English language, declares, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” 

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

Mary ann Evans

So, if you aspire to follow in the footsteps of those whose work has endured, read much, write using whatever tools you have, and begin now, no matter your age or circumstance. 

Who knows? Maybe one day, we’ll again be awestruck―this time on visiting your home.

Beverly Varnado is a novelist, screenwriter, and blogger. She has been a finalist for the Kairos Prize in Screenwriting and has had a script optioned. She has three books published with Anaiah Press, The Key to Everything, A Plan for Everything, and A Season for Everything. Catch up with her on her blog, One Ringing Bell  or at her website, BeverlyVarnado.com., Instagram @varnadobeverly, or her Facebook author page, BeverlyVarnadoauthor She loves speaking at writing conferences and to women’s groups.

www.bev-oneringingbell.blogspot.com

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