Feb 11, 2008

writing advice from poet Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton was a poet and writer who struggled with bipolar disorder for most of her life. Suicide was her final escape.

Writing quotation: “Until I was 28 I had a kind of buried self who didn’t know she could do anything but make white sauce and diaper babies. I didn’t know I had any creative depth. I was a victim of the American Dream, the bourgeois, middle class dream. All I wanted was a little piece of life, to be married, to have children,” said Anne Sexton.

Why didn’t she know she had any creative depth? Maybe a better question is: what’s holding you and me back from our creative depths? Answering that may provide insight into Sexton’s writing life. Even if it doesn’t, it could help us understand ourselves as writers.

Anne Sexton goes on to say: “I was trying my damndest to lead a conventional life, for that was how I was brought up, and it was what my husband wanted of me. But one can’t build little white picket fences to keep nightmares out. The surface cracked when I was about 28. I had a psychotic breakdown and tried to kill myself.”

Writing tip: Revealing and accepting yourself – what you really think, where you’ve really been – is one of the hardest parts of being a writer. It’s not just about rejection, though that’s huge. Since elementary school we’ve been conditioned to be quiet, tamp ourselves down, stop crying, colour in the lines, and wear big boy pants (some families are much more “stiff upper lip” and reserved than others). Letting ourselves go in writing is really, really hard.

When we expose our true selves in writing, we’re vulnerable to rejection, teasing, mocking, and labeling. But if we let fear stop us from writing, we’re vulnerable to things that are much worse: losing ourselves, breakdowns, and burying our dreams in food, booze, shopping, and bad relationships.

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