How Little Women Helped Unlock my Castle in the Air

Updated: Apr 18, 2019

Today I re-watched the BBC/PBS Little Women mini-series that released last December, and fell in love with it all over again! In view of that, I felt I should share with you all how Little Women has helped me a lot in my career as a writer.

JO and her Aspirations

I picked up Little Women for the first time when I was very young. I was drawn to the illustration on the cover of the entire family gathered around Beth’s piano, singing and enjoying their family togetherness. I was small and didn’t quite understand it, but nonetheless I remember enjoying it very much.

Then a few years later, when I was fifteen and struggling with writing my novel, I picked it up again, this time reading it through new eyes. There was something about Jo being only sixteen and writing a full novel that truly spoke to me. I had always been resistant to taking on such a project as writing a book before then, because I felt I’d be ridiculed for attempting something that is widely considered to be adult work.

I had sat down multiple times to write a novel all throughout my childhood, but never made it past the first page. And most of the things I did write (mainly poetry and music) I kept to myself. So in reading about a person my age writing something so large and spectacular, I gained so much more confidence in myself and my little book.

Jo became such an example to me of what is possible in a young writer’s life. She was published when she was younger than I am now. Granted, it isn’t 1870 anymore, so you can’t just walk into a publishers office with a manuscript and get an answer that same hour. But she had the courage, drive and creativity to go after what she wanted- which was to be a published authoress.

The Philosophy I Adopted

Something else that truly captivated me about Louisa’s novel (and what greatly inspired my writing) was in how simple the story truly is. There wasn’t one main event or quest that drove the story-line. It was the everyday story of a regular wholesome family. It contained various small roadblocks and challenges that gradually altered the characters growth and personalities, and the things that brought them there greatest joys were things that to many nowadays seem small and simple.

The beauty of every-day life is so heavily touched upon throughout the book, and much like Anne Of Green Gables did, it further cemented my belief that ordinary things are just as beautiful, if not more so than extraordinary things. Though the novel I was writing was a humble story, I felt more certain than ever that someone out there would appreciate that story, because it was real and relatable.

Unblocked My Writing Wall

Then fast forward two years- my book is completed and being queried to agents and publishers, and I hear word of the new Little Women mini series coming out in May. I was over the moon when I heard about this series, because the novel had touched my heart in such a massive way. To see it properly portrayed on screen was going to be a true privilege.

I enjoyed the 1994 film, but I always felt like it lacked so much that the book contained (you can read more about that in my mini series review), and the film suffered because of so. But when I turned on the first episode of the series, I was crying within the first five minutes. It was everything I imagined in my head while reading the book. Everything down to the entrance with the red wall in Mr. Lawrence's house- it was as if the creators of the show tapped into my own imagination. I finished the entire thing in one sitting, and afterwards I was left with a feeling of pure inspiration.

At the time of watching, I was suffering from terrible writer's block. I felt like just stopping all together. But then the book burning scene played through. Jo had worked for ages on that manuscript, and lost every word of it. Yet, she didn’t let that minor setback keep her from pursuing what she loved. She started again, and a year later had her book accepted for publishing.

A few months before finishing my first book, I lost over half the manuscript, and I had to start all over. Like Jo, I had to begin from scratch, and it was difficult. But I managed it eventually. This time I didn’t have to start all over, I was merely continuing an already established story-line, and the words were there somewhere. A couple nights after watching the film, I sat down and outlined all 34 chapters (now in revision as I pursue a different project) and I truly owe it to Louisa and her fearless heroine.

A couple evenings later, I sat down and recorded this in my journal (bear in mind I write using phrases like its 1850):

“ There was something about it that just made my heart soar. The book is a pinnacle, a true piece of me lies within it, but to see it so well portrayed on screen made me feel so proud, as if I was the one who wrote it. If Louisa May Alcott were alive today, I believe she would be truly satisfied.
“There is an expression that is used all throughout the book and film, “a castle in the air”, the place you go to dream; Writing is mine. When I read text like that it makes me realize how truly essential writing is to me. It has always been, even though I didn’t really know it in any meaningful way. It fills me with so much resplendence and self purpose, and speaks my mind in ways my voice never will”

I don’t often discuss my passions in any way that shows how much they truly mean to me. And I’ve never had the courage to show my personal writings to anyone. But this just goes to show how much of an impact this story has had on me creatively and just in my everyday life. It’s reminded me of how to deal with difficult people like Amy, how to be considerate of others feelings the way Beth is; it’s reminded me to never falsify who I am the way Meg learned, and it’s helped me to unlock the door to my "Castle in the Air", the way Jo did.

Did you enjoy the PBS Little Women series? Have you seen it yet? Click the link below to purchase the series!

© 2018 by J.E Stanway. All Rights Reserved.