Writing Lessons from Virginia Woolf- Momina Arif's Blog
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Writing lessons from Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was far ahead of her time and there is so much we can learn about writing from her even today. From being a writer and creating something unique to being a publisher and deciding what is creative and what is mediocre; there is something every writer can take from her.

Building characters. 

I believe that all novels, that is to say, deal with character, and that it is to express character—not to preach doctrines, sing songs, or celebrate the glories of the British Empire

Building a story by first building its characters is a great way to ensure that your novel has depth. It is also the characters that we get drawn to or that we can relate to. According to Woolf, all storytelling begins with a character sketch and that whatever lesson there is in the novel is secondary to the character having a purpose and fulfilling it.

Reading before you write

… it is impossible to read too much, but much more drastically and effectively by imagining that one is not oneself but somebody different…

Almost every writer will tell you to start reading to write. It is the first and most important writing advice. But Woolf has a better spin on it.  For her reading is an exercise of imagining what it is like to be someone else. And when you know what it is like to be other people, only then can you write about them. 

More importantly 

How can you learn to write if you write only about one single person?

It is fascinating to think, that F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer, almost as influential as Woolf, had the same advice. 

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good,they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

A common meeting place with the reader

As a reader, the one thing that sticks out to us in a book is vulnerability or common ground with the reader.

What do the readers find interesting, or compelling? 

Whatever they can find in common. 

Connecting with your reader and giving them something that related to their life is one of many things literature owes to Virginia Woolf. 

The writer must get into touch with his reader by putting before him something which he recognizes…

Keeping a diary.

A journal or a notebook is a writer’s greatest tool too because it helps them keep their best ideas. Had a 14-year-old Virginia Woolf not kept a diary would we have masterpieces such as the To the lighthouse? Probably not.

Woolf not only kept a diary she read the diaries of Leo Tolstoy and Andre Gide which is another lesson we can take. Our writer’s notebooks may be messy but they collect lots of ideas that at the time you do not understand the value of.

Writing constantly in your notebook can also help you get out of a rut and become more comfortable with words and write much better stories. 

The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice, It loosens the ligaments.


Being alone with your writing is crucial to having an original idea. This is a very important factor in Woolf’s writing. She conveys it best in her short story Lady in the looking glass; a writer is quite a lot but mostly just the product of all the time they spent on their own. 

Writers such as Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë all have that in common. A secluded lifestyle, a lot of time on their hands and a whole lot of books. 

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

― Virginia Woolf

This is something to consider if you want to become serious about writing. There’s a lot of hours that you must spend on your own and do nothing but writing. Not just scattered hours here and there, staring at your laptop. You need a serious writing routine.

What is the most important thing you learnt from Woolf?

Comment below to let me know.

Looking for more writing lessons? Find them here.

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