writing quotes

Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Sylvia Plath

This week’s Wednesday Words of Wisdom come from Sylvia Plath about finding material  everywhere in life. The big question is often: what do I write about? I’ve heard different pieces of advice about this such as “write what you know” or “write about what you love” but while these are good rules of thumb, I believe that with a little research and creativity, we can write about anything.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” -Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath


The way I interpreted this quote was that you can write about anything and turn it into a story. At the moment, I’m reading Stephen King’s collection of short stories called, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. (As you can probably tell on this blog, I’m a fan of Stephen King and his work.) Before each story, he gives a short explanation of what inspired him to write that story. After reading a few of them, I realized that if you give a story enough of a personal touch, combined with an interesting plot and characterization, you can write about anything.

As Sylvia Plath says, all it takes is the guts and imagination to do it. First, you’ve gotta have the courage to write it. Next, you’ve got to be able to improvise and fill in the gaps where you need to within the story. In a way, writing is comparable to an actor giving a performance on stage.

In theatre, everything happens in the moment and each live show is different from the next. The actors have the script to go by but there’s always room for the unexpected, for elaboration and for improvisation. There are unexpected situations, whether that’s due to an audience interruption, faulty lighting or sound equipment, or mistakes on the part of the actors themselves.

As Anne Lamott said of perfectionism, self-doubt can also stifle your creativity. If an actor rolls with the punches and works with the unexpected, they have the opportunity to innovate, re-interpret and re-create in those moments of improvisation. In the same way, if a writer accepts that there will be bumps in the road and they play it by ear along the way, they can fully engage in their creative potential.

That’s not to say I don’t think research and accuracy is key– I do. But not everyone will be a subject matter expert on everything and we shouldn’t have to get too caught up in the small details because in the end it’s the story that matters. If you combine imagination, improvisation and personal touches to your story, I think you can really create something enjoyable for people.



6 thoughts on “Wednesday Words of Wisdom: Sylvia Plath”

  1. I really liked this post, as I’ve often wondered whether it’s better to write what we know or to go after something totally unknown. In the end, I think we can successfully merge both into a story that people would want to read.

    I’m a huge fan of Sylvia Plath’s journals. She has such an elegant way of observing herself and the world around her.

    Some of the most creative writers I know — and those who write the most successfully outlandish and interesting stories — are the ones who make the world their playground. They’re not afraid to see the stories in unfamiliar things and to run with them. I think they have the most fun, too.

    I often face the strange issue of wanting to write what I know, but not wanting to do it within the confines of the world as I know it. So I end up writing speculative fiction.

    1. Thanks! I totally agree–I think it’s really interesting when you combine personal experiences with imagined worlds. Very well-said. I really need to read Sylvia Plath. I just added The Bell Jar to my TBR list on Goodreads and I can’t wait to get to it because part of it was beautifully- referenced on the show, Master of None. Also, from your description of her writing, I think I’ll enjoy her writing style. And that’s very true about the most creative writers, now that I think about it. That’s awesome that you write speculative fiction–that’s one of my favourite genres because it’s so innovative and it often makes a lot of interesting social statements about society. 🙂 Thanks for your insightful comments.

  2. I’m a fan of winging it on the first draft, then doing more research for subsequent drafts. If I can get the gist of what I intended into the first attempt that’s a good. Accuracy can come with editing, especially if it’s things like… a character doesn’t know how to sail a boat but they have to anyway, and they (I) don’t really know what the heck anything is called but it all still has to be there.

    1. That’s a good process. That’s true– if it’s important to the story and doesn’t bog the readers down with too much technical or historical detail, then I’m all for it. I know sometimes writers can go the opposite direction where they provide too many details about a process or activity and then they lose readers.

  3. wonderful explanation of the quote and examples go so well with it.. True everything is writable if you have the guts to do it.. Guts are very important in our life, in everything we do and especially when you are a creative being. I am trying to put down in words what I have in my mind and I am loving the process which is overwhelming at time but still it’s every bit worth it.

    1. You’re right, guts and confidence are very important in any area of life, including writing. That’s great that you’re loving the process of writing. I think enjoying the writing process is the most important part, no matter how overwhelming or difficult it feels. With that kind of passion, anything is possible. 🙂 Happy writing!

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