My Writing Partner and Anne Sexton Save My Manuscript



I don’t believe in writers’ block, because one can always write something, even if it’s not what one would like best to be writing. And even when I believe myself to be suffering such a block, I tell myself I don’t believe in its powers. But my self-exhortations were not quite strong enough to get anything good to come out of my pen all weekend.


Today, I was tired, cranky, not feeling well, and wanting to do nothing but curl up in bed with a mindless and poorly-written book that would make me feel better about my own lack of productivity. All the Dorothea Brande-esque admonitions in the world weren’t enough to get me out of this funk. While I walked from the bus to my writing space, I kept telling myself, “just get your butt in that chair, and make something happen.” So, butt firmly in chair, laptop open, draft before me, I began typing complete rubbish onto the page. 

When 11 AM crept around I finally had the freedom to quit writing junk, as it was time to meet with my writing buddy Tanya Chernov. I was relieved to be out of my chair, but nervous to be on my way to what I feared would be complete draft evisceration. While Tanya (who is my dear friend as well as my writing parter) is unfailingly kind, she’s not one to shy away from needful editorial comments, however unflattering they may be.  I just didn’t know if I could hear those comments in my contorted emotional state today. 


And yes, there were a great number of changes that needed to be made, but I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so refreshed by criticism as I felt today; though I left knowing the solid hunk of work I had ahead, I also left with new perspective on the material that had so quickly become stale to me, and with great ideas for development that I would not have had on my own. How anyone completes a respectable, publishable manuscript without an independent set of eyes to help guide the effort is something I cannot understand. Had I been writing solo, I imagine I’d have been very close to giving the whole process up–trying to salvage a few individual poems for another collection of poetry, calling the rest “the old college try,” and throwing it in a drawer. 


I was also quite pleased when Tanya gave me permission (I’m pretty draconian with myself,  but I’ll eagerly take permission to stray from my schedule when it’s given) to go home, stop writing for a day, and just read a book. Back at home, blanket wrapped around me in the Seattle fall, I dug out Anne Sexton’s The Awful Rowing Toward God, and was amazed, yet again, by her guttural honesty and innovation. Here’s a passage from the opening poem, “Rowing”:



…there will be a door

and I will open it

and I will get rid of the rat inside of me,

the gnawing pestilential rat.

God will take it with his two hands

and embrace it.


Who is writing like this today? And why the heck not? Today, I’m determined to try.


2 Replies to “My Writing Partner and Anne Sexton Save My Manuscript”

  1. Thanks for the inspiration, Kelly. I can sure use it right now as I’m going through one of those writing slumps myself. A change of scenery often works for me, so I think I’ll lug the computer to a nearby coffee shop.

  2. Joe, I think this must be, in part, MFA withdrawal (yes, read it and weep, haters of creative writing programs! We had community…and we liked it!). I’m definitely finding it necessary to seek out more human contact now that I don’t have such day-to-day support. The cautionary tales of how many writers stop writing after leaving a program is enough to make me prioritize some dialogue with others!

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