Sylvia Plath and Writer’s Block

Anyone who follows my blog – or checks it periodically – will see that I haven’t posted anything for nearly a month.

And I had been doing so well! I was so proud of all the posts I’d managed to crank out since March. Then I suddenly found myself tongue-tied, as it were.

Oh, I’ve been writing. I write something in my journal nearly every day. And I’ve been working on some new poems. But I didn’t have anything blog-worthy to post. I had a few ideas for the blog. But nothing was really materializing. I wanted to write a piece about Sylvia Plath (poet and novelist, 1932-1963). I did some research, made some notes. But that piece didn’t materialize either.

And then I read about that period in Sylvia’s life when she had writer’s block. And I realized I had writer’s block too.

I don’t think there is a writer over the age of 12 who hasn’t experienced writer’s block at some point. It seems the more one tries to fight it, the more insidiously it hangs on. The remedy, then, seems to be to just allow space for not writing, while at the same time, making a commitment to sit down and write, no matter how trivial or flawed the work is. It’s a rather paradoxical trick, I know.

My plan was originally to come up with some profound inSylvia Plath 2sight about Sylvia Plath’s suicide that no one had ever reached before. I’m humbled to say that unique insight never dawned on me. Then I found myself moving farther and farther away from writing the piece, as if I’d be obliged to stick my head in the oven if it wasn’t flawless.

To hell with that.

What I will share with you, instead, are a few lesser-known facts about Sylvia’s life that I found especially interesting. If you take anything away from the list, all the better. But if you just read it, you will be joining me in dispelling my latest bout of writer’s block.

At the age of 12 Sylvia Plath scored 160 on an IQ test. (The average is between 90 and 110.)

She submitted more than 40 stories to Seventeen magazine before she had one accepted. She herself was 17 at the time.

She read Gone with the Wind three times.

Sylvia Plath quote 2At the age of 20 she made her first suicide attempt and was very nearly successful. She’d gone missing for three days. She was found in a cubbyhole in the basement, more dead than alive.

She was a staunch pacifist. She hated the atomic bomb and was disturbed by the execution of the Rosenbergs.

Plath’s husband, the English poet Ted Hughes, was physically and verbally abusive. From the sounds of it she held her own in fighting back. The first time she kissed him, she drew blood.

She gave birth to her first child at home, with no anesthetic.

 

Sources:

Carl Rollyson. American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath.
New York: St Martin’s Press: 2013.

Stephanie Hemphill. Your Own, Sylvia.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf: 2007.

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5 Responses to Sylvia Plath and Writer’s Block

  1. Laura says:

    Do we know what happened to her child?

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    • Psyche says:

      Yes. Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes had two children. Frieda Rebecca Hughes, born in 1960, is still alive. Nicholas Farrar Hughes, born in 1962, committed suicide in 2009. So tragic, all of it.

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  2. When I have writer’s block, it results from my familiar perfectionism. Often, a break taken in nature will calm that down, or a “send it anyway” piece that I know very well is not great.

    I seem to have some things in common with Sylvia Plath. When I was younger, I also was a very serious pacifist (Vietnam and post-Vietnam era and I still am) who back then participated in personal violence and abuse. I see that paradox only rarely. Most violent people seem to understand war as justifiable, but I never did. I was 31 years old when I stumbled into recovery and gave up violence along with other harmful pursuits. (I never came close to success with suicide.) That’s interesting on my individual level.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ohioladyj says:

    Okay, well giving birth at home, w/o, is what most women did back then. I challenge you to come up with a new idea as to why she committed suicide. I think it is interesting when people do this as the theories can be close enough to be accurate. I liked the movie about her with Gwyneth Paltrow, whom I don’t like as an actress normally. It handled the suicide in a plausible way. Her husband burned her last journal or book she was writing (supposedly or factually, not sure). I think this is the most compelling part of the story too. Perhaps she fit the bill of a Highly Sensitive Person which Dr. Aron speaks of in her book of this same title. And the product of a victim falling prey to a batterer. And mental illness. It is never black or white.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Psyche says:

      No, I don’t think it is black and white at all, at least in her case. I suspect the suicide was due to a combination of things: being prone to depression, shaky self-esteem, being with a husband whose support and respect of her were as tenuous as his fidelity. Probably other factors contributed as well.

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