Having just finished reading “Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted” by Andrew Wilson (a well recommended read for any woman who a) loves reading, b) loves writing, or c) has experience with mental illness), I feel like my writer’s block should be lifted.
Throughout the book, Wilson describes when and why Sylvia had written her short stories and poems, as well as when she begins to collate ideas together for her novel “The Bell Jar” (another recommended read, as it is practically an autobiography). Sylvia wrote a lot, received rejection letters a lot and got published a lot. She mainly wrote about relationships, mental illness, and herself.
The Bell Jar is one of my favourite books and when reading her ‘before’ story by Wilson, I kept noticing several things that she did which must have helped her achieve so much with her writing:
- Keeping a journal
Sylvia kept detailed journals for a lot of her life, knowing that these daily pages would potentially become useful for her later writing (they did). These journals were filled with her thoughts, feelings, and little pieces of information from her day – they weren’t used as rough drafts, even though a lot of the material ended up in her novel The Bell Jar.
- Using her experiences
During her short life, Sylvia lived through plenty of interesting and extraordinary experiences – from hot dates to working as a nanny to spending time in hospital. She used a lot of these experiences in her writing, whether in fiction or poetry format. Her life and her emotions were her main influences in her work.
Sylvia read a lot. A lot a lot. As said by Annie Proulx (a novelist and journalist): “Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” Reading will inspire you and help you understand how to develop the story you want to write.
- Being open with her emotions
A lot of Sylvia’s work stems from how she felt. Whether that was her constant sadness about her father’s death when she was ten years old or how her boyfriend had broken her heart. If you have read anything of hers (which I recommend!) you’ll be able to see just how much heart and soul she puts into every piece.
- Forcing herself to write
Sylvia was an organised writer, not only by keeping her journals but also by writing even when she couldn’t think of what to write. Any writing is better than nothing – and besides, I personally find that if I force it, sometimes a flow happens and I end up with a decent bit of writing (huzzah!)
- Keeping a schedule
Sylvia and her husband Ted kept a strict schedule – before having children the couple would aim to write for about six hours per day, altering this schedule when their children Freida and Nicholas were born. I can somewhat vouch for this in that when I attempted NaNoWriMo last year, I made myself write every evening after a run and my dinner, writing until I had completed the day’s quota (or until I felt like passing out on the bed). It certainly got me writing (even though some of it was terrible).
After reading her story I fully intend to try out and stick to some of her techniques, as well as re-reading The Bell Jar. She acquired a lot of wisdom in her 30 years, and even over 50 years later we are still reading her work – so I think any writer can learn a little from her.
Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.
Do you have a particular author that inspires you? Let me know in the comments below!