What I've learned from Jane Austen's juvenilia

9:29 AM

Today's post is part of the series Writer's Corner

I just finished reading a collection of Jane Austen's juvenilia and unfinished novels. I couldn't help feeling the difference  between her great novels, such as Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility and the writings from her youth.

I know it's not fair to judge her early material. I mean, 12-year-old Jane puts 26-year-old Paula to shame. My point is: I actually learned a thing or two about writing from these "not so great" novels. When comparing her juvenilia and unfinished novels with her more mature work, I learned that's important to:

1) Take your time
There's no use rushing towards things. Jane, despite being happy about the short length of your stories I had to go back and read them again constantly because I didn't really remember who you were talking about.

2) Properly develop your characters
While we're at it, we need to take the time to develop our characters, who they are, what motivates them. Quickly brushing through them will give the impression they are not real people.

3) Keep it classy
Far from me from accusing Lady Austen of being coarse, but some of her jokes were not as subtle as we are used to. If you're going to try humor, be careful.

4) Think outside of your comfort zone
One of the greatest stories I read in the book, Lady Susan, is not your usual Jane Austen story. It is written entirely in the form of letters and the main character is a selfish, vicious woman. That's probably why the novel is not so famous, but it is incredible nonetheless.So, it's Ok to try new things because they might turn out great too.

5) Persist (things get better)
I believe this is the best thing I learned from Austen juvenilia and you can learn that from many authors. The first things Austen wrote were far from being great. But she persisted and after some time and a lot of effort, she arrived at the level of Sense and Sensibility. As Ira Glass taught us, good writing takes time and lots of practice. Keep working hard and your writing will improve little by little.

I've learned so much by reading Austen's juvenilia and unfinished novels that I was encouraged to read my own archives and see if I can learn from my own (recent) juvenilia as well.

Have you read Austen's unfinished works? Do you like reading author's juvenilia or do you prefer their most famous works?

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Image via The Creative Penn

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  1. From "The History of England"....don't let the facts get in the way of a good story! I love how she takes the history of about 200yrs and changes it to suit her wit. I was part of an Austen fantasy league. Each week you were required to write a story, using Austen characters, sometimes with a theme. While I'm a very poor writer(and clear as mud!), I had a delightful time with certain characters(Romola Garai's Emma(2009) was far and away my favorite to write).

    I have only read about 1/2 of the juvenilia. I have been tempted to require my Austen bookclub(Austen in Boston:A Jane Austen bookclub) to read some of it. Lol, not sure how well that will go over. I love the dedications to some of the juvenilia. Her dedications to Cassandra are especially witty. Cheers!

  2. Both the Austen fantasy league and the Austen book club seem so fun and interesting! I don't know if her juvenilia would be a popular choice for the book club, but being a Jane Austen book club I think you guys will have to read it eventually!

    I didn't notice the dedications when I first read it, I'll go back to the book and check it out ;)


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