Sylvia Plath’s Struggles With Self-Doubt

sylvia plath

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), has emerged as one of the most prominent and treasured poetic voices of the 20th century. Her short, troubled life is well documented; her confessional poetry has earned a devoted following.

Here are some passages from her writings that reveal her struggles with self-doubt. The lesson here — keep working and keep creating even when you doubt yourself. One is never the best judge of one’s own gifts. The passages below are from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982), plus her famous fig tree quote from The Bell Jar.


I am horribly limited

“…What is my life for and what am I going to do with it? I don’t know and I’m afraid. I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”

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The loneliness of the soul

“And when at last you find someone to whom you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter — they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept inside the small, cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship — but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”

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I have so much to learn

“Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that — I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much — so very much to learn.”

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You never write it quite the way you want to

“Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it, or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to.”

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Sylvia Plath

You might also like: 10 of Sylvia Plath’s Best-Loved Poems

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The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt

“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.”

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Indecision — the famous fig tree quote from The Bell Jar

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

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Fig tree quote - Bell Jare

Quotes from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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