Writing Through The Darkness

Jessica Grose ponders Sylvia Plath’s astonishing productivity as a writer, despite being a mother and wife who battled mental illness:

Plath battled the depression that would ultimately fell her throughout her entire working life, but she still managed to be highly productive, even during the period when she was a single mother of two young children after separating from Hughes. Work was so important to her sense of self that Plath’s suicide attempt during that summer of ’53 was in part because her depression rendered her unable to write.

Among the reasons for Plath’s copius output? Grose cites Diane Middlebrook’s biography, Her Husband, on the importance of the poet’s daily writing schedule:

“Daily routines were the kind of thing Plath liked to describe in letters to her mother, so we know that [she and Hughes] planned to write for four to six hours a day, 8:30-12:00 in the morning, 4:00-6:00 in the afternoon. In later years, after they had children, they split the day into two parts: Plath took the hours after breakfast, and she aimed to be at work by 9:00; Hughes had the hours between lunch and tea. Despite the evident differences in their dispositions, routines suited both of them, and what they considered good work flowed from Hughes’s pen and Plath’s keyboard for the whole of their first two months of married life.”

Even in the frenzied final months of Plath’s life, during which she was plagued by anxiety, depression, and insomnia, she would write from 4 a.m., when her sleeping pills wore off, until 8 a.m., when her son and daughter woke up and needed her. She wrote much of the heralded poetry collection Ariel in this fashion.