Molly Peacock

How did you become a writer?

My grandmother wrote in her daily diary and kept up her correspondence as she baked, sewed, and pushed clothes through an old wringer washer. Mondays she made pies, Tuesdays did the laundry, Wednesdays got out the sewing machine…but every day she wrote. Her habits showed me how to craft a routine.

My mother went to the library weekly, took out a stack of romance and western novels, and gobbled up one a day. Because she was often lost in her reader’s world, I often think I became a writer to have her read me. And my grandmother gave me the basic tools. Every writer has to craft an everyday life.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Friend: Phillis Levin, poet, with whom we have exchanged nearly every serious word we have written for nearly forty years.

When and where do you write? 

In the mornings at home, or, deliciously, in hotel rooms.

Poetry: In the blue bathrobe. In a hypnogogic state. On paper. No radio. No email. No talking.

Prose: Yoga routine, breakfast, make bed, water plants, feed cat and converse with husband. Then sit down at a computer and pound it out for three hours.

What are you working on now?

I’m pleased to say that W.W. Norton and Company has just accepted The Analyst. The poems spiral off from a relationship between a patient and a therapist that drastically changes when the therapist suffers a brain hemorrhage but survives and suddenly devotes herself to painting-- an art she abandoned at 18.

My new biography is about the fabulous, unknown 19th-century American-Canadian painter Mary Hiester Reid.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I’d call it “rusty pump syndrome.” In the spring, the well for a house that has been closed up for the winter has to be primed again. You pump it till your arm practically falls off, and then a thin stream of rusty water trickles into the bucket. In my early thirties, after the discipline of undergraduate school and a graduate program gave way to exhausting full-time work, I let the work stop my writing. Winter, so to speak. Then when I’d have a vacation, I’d have to prime the writing till a sickly stream of words came out. It would take the whole vacation to get going again.

But what if you just don't close up the house for the Winter of Work? Sick of the syndrome, I resolved to write a poem every week on Saturday morning. Even producing something awful had to be better than stopping and starting up again. I would make space in my head during the week to think about a poem, say, about Thursday, and then on Saturday morning write it down. The discipline is exhilarating, comforting—and banishes rust in the pump.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Write to the next head on the pillow.

Molly Peacock is a widely anthologized poet and biographer. Her latest work of nonfiction is the bestselling The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, and her latest book of poetry is The Second Blush. Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions is her book of very short stories, with illustrations by Kara Kosaka. She is the Series Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English and the subject of Jason Guriel's recent monograph Molly Peacock: A Critical Introduction.