Annie Dillard wrote a brutally honest description of her relationship and struggles with the process of writing. Instead of the usual advice about showing, not telling, etc that I see etched inside my eyelids, as I read The Writing Life, I was compelled to copy its poetic quotes on note cards that I'll use as bookmarks.
I expect gems from this work will inspire and educate me as I stumble across them in days to come—quotes, such as the content of a note from Michelangelo to his apprentice, "Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time." And, “Throw out the beginning; the book begins in what you thought was the middle. It can take years and heartbreak to see that...”
Annie Dillard defines an important point as follows: "The writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it? Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles... He writes it in spite of that. He finds ways to minimize the difficulty; he strengthens other virtues; he cantilevers the whole narrative out into thin air, and it holds. And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he. For there is nothing in the material for this book that suggests to anyone but him alone its possibilities for meaning and feeling.” In an effort to "minimize the difficulty" motivates me to sit in writing seminars and read how-to writing books.
- The tendency and pressure upon writers these days is to churn out several books per year. Dillard writes the putting a book together is difficult and complex and should engage all the writer's intelligence. Freedom as a writer is not “freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip.” While I'd like to complete one book per year, Dillard believes that writing a book, full time, takes between two and ten years.
- I tend to rewrite over and over as I write. Dillard advises the opposite: “The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen."
- And finally, these words of warning: "The writer is careful of what he read, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know."