A Writer’s Writer: May Sarton

Every writer I know keeps notebooks (whether “real” notebooks or virtual) where they write or record things other (usually more well-known) writers have said that strike them as helpful, or just plain lovely. These notebooks are usually also the repository for other random thoughts the writer might have: story ideas, books they want to read, authors they want to check out – basically anything that might pertain to their writing life.

Going back and looking through these notebooks is a favorite activity of mine. I count it as “real work,” which means that when I go through these notebooks I am actually finding all sorts of potential “jumping-off points” for my own work. This is very helpful when I am casting about for what to work on next, or when I need a break from what I am working on.

I often share quotes from other writers on Twitter, but many of the authors I like best do not share their observations in 140 characters or less. With that in mind, I offer some of my favorite quotes from random notebooks – quotes that I liked so much, I felt compelled to find a pen and notebook to record them. (Seems like a somewhat arcane task, nevertheless…)
May Sarton is one of my most cherished writers for two reasons. First – my mother-in-law Louise introduced me to May Sarton ages ago, and I will always have that grateful connection to Louise. Second, May Sarton, to me, personifies a “writer’s writer.” She was someone who just wrote, and wrote and carved out her own life. Here are a few quotes of hers that I particularly like:
From Journal of A Solitude: “It has also made me aware once more of how rarely a woman is able to continue to create after she marries and has children.”

Also, “It occurs to me that boredom and panic are the two devils the solitary must combat.”

And, “In the end what kills is not agony (for agony at least asks something of the soul) but everyday life.”

From The House By the Sea, this poignant comment: “The spirit spurts on, but the machinery is running down.”

And, “But I am always up against my own hard view that it is next to impossible to lead a fulfilled life as a human being and do original work of the highest caliber, if one is a woman.”

Also, “The people we love are built into us.”

And, lastly, crushingly (to my mind): In a review of one of her books the reviewer stated, “May Sarton is an American lady of sixty-three who has been writing novels for thirty-six years without anyone paying very much attention.”


I highly recommend reading any of her books. I’m not as familiar with her poetry (even though that was really her focus as a writer), but I truly love her memoirs Journal of A Solitude and The House by The Sea. And, of course, Selected Letters (1916-1954) edited by Susan Sherman, which like most letter collections of authors gives the reader an even better window into one writer’s life.


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