Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life”

Yesterday afternoon I sat by the city pool, under a live oak tree, and reread most of Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.” As someone who is at the hard stage of writing a book, her words rang more true than when I first read them 10 years ago.

“You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully.”

“There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it out. Duck.”

“The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, the part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin.”

“Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right. The discardable chapters are on the left. The latest version of a literary work begins somewhere in the work’s middle, and hardens toward the end.”

“Nor does anyone need your manuscript; everyone needs shoes more.”

“Sometimes part of a book simply gets up and walks away.”

“At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.”

“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.”

Only one chapter left. I have $2 in my pocket. The pool awaits.

Comments

  1. So many parts of that book made me laugh so hard. I especially remember the part about the clothespin on her finger as she waited for the teapot.

  2. I love that book!

    “The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, the part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin.”

    This quote really got to me today. It’s how I felt after the class I just took–that maybe where my brave was may not be my beginning…

    And then came the fear… there may be no beginning at all.

  3. I really needed this. The part of my book that keeps walking away is the end. It is, I dare say, somewhat of a problem.

  4. Really, really love this book. I remember being a wide-eyed young writer, reading it and hoping. Having reread it last summer before teaching the Writing Life workshop with Ann, I had that same experience of finding new connecting points, feeling like it was practical and real now, not just a dream.

  5. “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.”

    The truth of this comes back to me again and again, and every time it does, I wonder how I let it get away from me.

  6. You’re convincing me to read this one. I may have read it once, but I’m not remembering these quotes. So maybe? So glad you’re headin’ for the tape!

  7. I just started rereading it the other day. I’m in the editing part. Hard work 🙂

  8. Love this book. That “spend it” is embedded in my mind. If you don’t … “You open your safe and find ashes.”

    Is there a connection between that and the $2 in your pocket?

  9. Anna Mitchael says:

    First stop library, next stop pool.

  10. Megan, I’m coming by here (very) late….so glad I did. Funny how I’m reading (or just finished) The Writing Life myself and thought, “I’d like to go through this book and just write down all the quotes that stood out to me. ” And here, you’ve done it.
    From p. 5 “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon,” Thoreau noted mournfully, “or perchance a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a wood shed with them.” The writer returns to these materials (these ‘bricks’), these passionate subjects, as to unfinished business, for they are his life’s work.”
    The stories, the ‘bricks’, are all in there….just need more time to build.

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