In this post, we share seven bits of writing advice from Anne Sexton, the Pulitzer-winning American poet.
About Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton is known for her tragic and evocative poetry. She used her work to explore rare themes for the time, including her lifelong depression.
Sexton had a lifelong battle with depression and mental illness. It would be a strong influence on her work.
She published her poetry in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and others. Her first collection, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, was published in 1960.
She draws almost immediate comparisons to Sylvia Plath, with whom she was good friends.
Sexton won the Pulitzer in 1967 for Live Or Die.
Anne Sexton ended her life on 4 October 1974 by way of carbon monoxide poisoning.
7 Bits Of Writing Advice From Anne Sexton
1. Make Friends (With Writers)
‘I like you. Your eyes are full of language.’ – Letter To Anne Clarke, Dated July 3, 1964
Sexton admitted her admiration for another writer with this quote. Contacts are important for any freelancer.
Don’t force yourself into being a socialite, but… Get to know writers, editors, and industry professionals. Attend events, talks, and parties. Connect with others on your writing journey.
Socialising with others who also love language is good for your soul.
Real people teach writers how to build better characters. Conversations lead to stronger storylines and scenes.
2. Dig Deeper
‘Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.’ – The Words of Extraordinary Women
All good writing requires two crucial things: feeling and paying attention.
Advertising copy fails without it. Romance and horror fiction are pointless without any soul. A corporate email requires a professional tone, but still contains the emotion and attention to detail of the writer.
Linguistics is an intricate science.
When you write, dig deeper. Digging turns first drafts into second or third ones. Always ask questions like, how else can I say this?
Like Sexton said here, pay attention and ‘listen hard’.
3. Chase Accomplishment
‘The beautiful feeling after writing a poem is on the whole better even than after sex, and that’s saying a lot.’ – The Craft of Poetry: Interviews from the New York Quarterly
There are few things better than the feeling of accomplishment after you have written something good, or published something great.
Anne Sexton would equate the feeling to what happens after sex.
One is exhausted and flustered – but at the same time, happy about it having happened.
4. Use Your Uniqueness
‘I am alone here in my own mind. There is no map and there is no road. It is one of a kind just as yours is.’ – January 24th, Poem By Anne Sexton – From The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton
Writers don’t call four friends over to watch them write down words. Would you?
Sexton emphasised that writing is a lone act. It will need long hours, and usually spent alone in front of your own words.
Fortunately, Sexton also pointed to the unique bits of every writer.
Use your uniqueness.
5. Outline, Outline, Outline
‘Don’t bite till you know if it’s bread or stone.’ – The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton
When Sexton said ‘bite’, the word ‘write’ could also be a good fit. The expression says don’t bite off more than you can chew.
It applies to freelance contracts. It also applies to plots, characters, and taking on the first paragraph of a new story.
An outline can stop you from being hit by sheer overload.
6. Write For Yourself & Your Perfect Reader
‘I think of myself as writing for one person, that one perfect reader who understands and loves.’ – Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters
Write for yourself and the reader you imagine will love what you write.
What this means, is to write things that you like. If you don’t like the results, how will readers?
Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box is built on references to music and rock. If you know your way around a guitar, you’ll enjoy this. Hill also happens to play guitar. He probably wrote for that reader that understands and loves guitar.
You can tell when a writer enjoys what they write. You can also tell when it’s the opposite.
Find what you love, imagine your perfect reader, and work these passions into your writing.
7. A Writer Wears Several Hats
‘It’s a little mad, but I believe I am many people. When I am writing a poem, I feel I am the person who should have written it.’ – An Interview In The Paris Review, Summer 1971
Can you climb into the minds of your characters? Can you edit your own work as an impartial observer? Can you move from a business tone to a personal one for two different jobs?
A writer has to do all of this, and without going insane. A writer wears several hats: get used to it, and practise your skills!
The Last Word
I hope these bits of writing advice from Anne Sexton help you with your writing.
Source for image: Goodreads
TIP: If you want help writing a book, buy The Novel Writing Exercises Workbook.
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.
If you enjoyed this, you will love:
- 7 Bits Of Writing Advice From Kazuo Ishiguro
- Trudi Canavan’s 3 Tips To Improve Your Writing
- Nora Roberts On How She Writes
- 7 Bits Of Writing Advice From H. G. Wells
- Gail Carson Levine’s 7 Rules For Writing
- 7 Excellent Plotting Tips From Agatha Christie
- 6 Bits Of Writing Advice From Jorge Luis Borges
- Curtis Sittenfeld’s 5 Steps For Writing A Short Story
- Alice Adams’s Pattern For Writing A Short Story
- Writing Advice From The World’s Most Famous Authors