Life Lessons from Famous Women Who Went Before Us

Tuesday, April 02, 2013 Posted by Dina N

* This is a guest post by Menna van Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street that I am currently reading. Her new book hits the shelves on Thursday, April 4. Enjoy! *

Being a writer can be a pretty lonely business. You spend so many hours inside your own head and, instead of chatting to colleagues during coffee breaks, you browse the internet or pace your office trying to solve the latest plot point problem. At least, I do. Once I'm deep into the first draft, the characters provide company and connection of sorts. But, of course, your relationship with them is rather one-sided. They might speak to you while you're writing Perhaps it was this loneliness that led me to populate my new novel, The House at the End of Hope Street, with the spirits of late, great literary heroines.

As soon as I started researching these women: Daphne du Maurier, Virginia Woolf, George Elliot, Beatrix Potter, Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker, Doris Lessing, Agatha Christie . . . I stopped feeling lonely. Their spirits filled my writing room. I started hearing their voices in my head. They visited me with words of wisdom at random moments. I lived with them all for a few years and learned a lot.

It doesn't matter that women a hundred years ago led such different lives from us, in so many ways, because our similarities are still much greater than our differences. When I was a young writer, just starting out on my journey, I didn't know any other writers so I read the biographies and quotes of those I admired. Last year I became a mother for the first time and, needing to know how to balance motherhood and writing, I consulted my muses again. It was very enlightening. So much so that now I have a new writing project: 99 Days to Fulfill a Dream. Every day I pick an inspiring quote and write about how it can help you to fulfill any life dream you want to fulfill!

Ten Pearls of Wisdom from Ten Great Women
  • "The secret of getting ahead is getting started." -- Agatha Christie
Do one thing today that will take you closer to your dream. Write a line or two, for example. It doesn't matter if it's any good or not, the only thing that matters is that you do it.

  • "Avoid looking forward or backward. Keep looking upward." -- Charlotte Brontë
Don't think about what you haven't yet done or how much you have yet to do. Stay in the moment. "Failures" of the past and fears of the future don't exist - focus on your hopes and inspiration and forget everything else.

  • "No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself." -- Virginia Woolf
Don't add metaphorical glitter and bows in order to shine because you think what you're doing isn't enough. People fall in love with something when the heart that created it resonates with their own. You don't need to dress up your heart.

  • "The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." -- Sylvia Plath
Self-doubt is second-guessing the outside world. It's assuming that you have to be better and/or different to succeed. But you don't have to be Shakespeare/Picasso/Mozart/Meryl Streep in order to find your niche in the world. Do what you love and it's very likely you'll find others who love what you do.

  • "Never complain, never explain." -- Dorothy Parker
While you're travelling the bumpy road towards your dreams it takes discipline not to complain or explain yourself to others but it's well worth it. Complaining undermines your passion. Explaining often diminishes your self-belief. To succeed you need all the passion and self-belief you can get!

  • "Starting out to make money is the greatest mistake in life. Do what you feel you have a flair for doing and, if you are good enough at it, the money will come." -- Greer Garson

It's the doing of a thing - not the results it brings - that makes you truly happy, that feeds your soul and sparks up your spirit. So, unless you'd do it anyway for free, don't do it.

  • "We've got to believe in our beautiful impossible blueprints." -- Doris Lessing
While pregnant I realised how crazy it is when we don't believe in ourselves. Because, no matter how impossible your dreams may seem, it can't come close to the apparent impossibility of creating life. Compared to that, publishing a novel - or whatever you dream of - is simplicity itself!

  • "I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I'm not afraid to look behind them." -- Elizabeth Taylor
Courage is the first thing. Without it nothing is possible. With it everything is possible. Things you can't yet imagine. Being afraid leads to shrunken life, being fearless leads to a magnificent life.

  • "Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind." -- Daphne du Maurier
To be happy for no reason at all, to be happy with yourself just as you are, is essential. Don't be fooled into thinking that, if you're not happy now then fulfilling your dreams will suddenly bring you happiness. It doesn't work like that.

  • "Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself and never mind the rest." -- Beatrix Potter
Life is hard without faith, achieving your dreams even harder. During those dark nights of the soul, when it seems as though you'll never succeed, you need a little faith to see you through. Without it, you'll give up at the first hurdle. With it, you'll be leaping over the last.

© 2013 Menna van Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street

Author Bio
Menna van Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street, is a freelance writer, journalist and Oxford graduate. She is the author of Men, Money and Chocolate. She lives in Cambridge, England, with her husband and son.

For more information please visit, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter (@mennavanpraag).


  1. Kristi said...

    I love her "pearls of wisdom". I struggle with self-doubt a lot. But I am working to live in the present and be a little nicer to myself. I will have to check out her book. Nice post.

  2. Robin O said...

    These are excellent nuggets of wisdom. I particularly like the Charlotte Brontë quote.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. said...

    Staying in the moment, not complaining and understanding the thought process involved in happiness,I should print these out and put them where I can read everyday. Thank you for sharing.

  4. holdenj said...

    Sounds inspiring, thanks for sharing!

  5. Maureen said...

    Those are some wonderful quotes that I can see helping on some not so great days.

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