Dillard’s Writing Life

In Book Reviews on October 28, 2009 at 7:36 pm

I picked up Annie Dillard’s book, The Writing Life, as a recommendation from a friend.  That is the nature of most books we read, I suppose.  We thewritinglifeheard from someone or other that this was a ‘good’ book.  I think some books find us at the right time.  This was one of those books for me.

The humor and personal tales drew me into Dillard’s personal narrative.  I enjoy being ushered into the writer’s quirky world, whether a small isolated wood shop or a remote island.  Her re-counting of solitary ventures were not altogether lonely; because, she was inviting me into them.  Her writing ushered in a vast crowd of friends – if transported only through the written word.  I laughed at how much she resisted writing – the tension between distraction and wonder.  She would be wondering over a word and then admiring a bug in the corner of the room.  I have many of those ‘Oh, look a bird’ moments (where my attention goes elsewhere).

The emotional impact of this book hit me toward the end of the fifth chapter.  All the personal stories and anecdotal sequences introduced the rigor and challenge of writing.  About the artist, she observes, “Who but an artist fierce to know – not fierce to seem to know – would suppose that a live image possessed a secret?”  As a writer, curiosity about the world is key; and listening.  Secrets suggest mystery.

Dillard delivers a line in Chapter 5 that hung with me throughout the marathon a few weeks ago:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.  Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.”

The last six miles of the run, I kept thinking “Give it all, Give it now”.  In my mind/heart, this line linked endurance sports and writing.  Perseverance and suffering are results of both pursuits.  It may not be the most strategic running advice; but, for this novice, it worked great.

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