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One Thing That’s Key To The Writing Life

Jan 23, 2017

I began reading Louise Glück’s poems around the time I handed in the final draft of my first book. Now I can see that the book was a culmination of a decade of work and obsession, but at the time, without the manuscript to anchor my thoughts, I felt adrift. I had to come down from the high of achieving what I had set out to do and had to face the blank page again. For a year, I plunged into another project, until I realized that I was rewriting my first book and that I did not yet have the depth and experience to give the new story the justice it deserved. For another year, I hardly wrote at all. I had a few real life adventures, but for the most part, I felt that I was waiting at my desk for words that would not arrive. Without my usual way of expressing what I saw and felt, it seemed to me that the world had lost its texture.

During this time, I kept returning to Glück’s essay collection, Proofs and Theories. The author of 16 poetry collections and a former US Poet Laureate, among many other honors, Glück writes in these essays that each time she finished a book, she fell into a period of “natural silence,” during which she did not write at all. This was most acute between her first two books, of which she says:

And it seemed at that time that, in my life, nothing was happening, or nothing with any power to change me… Nothing I read, nothing I saw or heard provoked response. And in the absence of response to the world, the act of writing, which had been, which is, the center of my life, the act or dream that suffuses life with meaning, had virtually stopped. For two years I wrote a little, three or four poems in all, and these seemed no more than treading water. For two years, I wrote nothing, not a word. It seemed increasingly impossible to remember a time when I had been fully alive, impossible to imagine a future in which I would live that way again.

These intervals of silence, she writes, “require a stoicism very much like courage; of these, no reader is aware.” In these words, I saw a well-regarded writer coming to terms with her artistic process and her own limitations, divulging the invisible struggles of the creative life.