Saturday, May 6, 2017

Book Review: The Writing Life

I first encountered Annie Dillard in a course at Wheaton College. I remember marveling at the poetry of her wisdom in words. It is like she holds a reader's eye up to a microscope and describes every detail with such precision and eloquence that you sense the beauty in all the parts that make up the whole.

In The Writing Life, Dillard turns her lens from nature and onto the creative act of writing. I found so many gems of wisdom in this little volume. In explaining the writer's need to forcibly pursue the work, she writes: “Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair." As to attitude toward your work, she says of the writer: "He must be sufficiently excited to rouse himself to the task at hand, and not so excited he cannot sit down to it. He must have faith sufficient to impel and renew the work, yet not so much faith he fancies he is writing well when he is not."

Dillard's words reminded me of the importance of keeping up the momentum (something I only did once I discovered the Nanowrimo challenge). She says: "I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.... If you skip a visit or two, a work in progress will turn on you.... You must visit it every day and assert your mastery over it." Writing is sheer pursuit. "It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then - and only then - it is handed to you." She writes further: "It feels like alligator wrestling, at the level of the sentence."

And finally, of the responsibility to fill our hearts and minds with what is good for the soul and good for our writing, she says: "The writer ... is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know." Dillard's words are inspiring. I could turn to them again and again for motivation in my writing tasks.

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