Living the Astonishing Writer’s Life (A Love Letter)
As you read this, I’ll be finishing up a five-day stay in Louisville, Kentucky, after a conference/celebration at Spalding University, where I got my MFA. The celebration part was to honor Sena Jeter Naslund, the founder and long-time director of the MFA program, who is retiring.
Sena is the author of many wonderful novels, including my favorite, Ahab’s Wife, and is also an amazing teacher and inspiring speaker. One of the things she says is, “writers get everything everyone else does—plus the pleasures of a writing life.”
That quote encompasses everything about the life of a writer and why it is the best life imaginable. We get everything everyone else does—and more. And, conversely, everything in our non-writing world (that part everybody else gets) impacts our writing world. It’s sort of like the double helix of the DNA strand—our writing and civilian lives combine and recombine, constantly fertilizing and enriching the other.
A walk on a beautiful fall day inspires description for a novel. A snippet of overheard dialogue makes its way into a scene. Reading a book deepens your understanding of your main character. And you also get to enjoy those things as aspects of living life. A beautiful fall day, some interesting eavesdropping, the pleasures of sinking into the world of a book.
“You were made and set here to give voice to this, your astonishment,” says Annie Dillard. “Instructions for living a life: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it,” says Mary Oliver. We writers are the lucky ones because we get to not only be astonished, but then tell about it. We get to live twice, as Natalie Goldberg points out.
And that, my friends, is astonishing, no?
I do often wonder how non-writers make it through. I can’t imagine living without a writing practice, be it journaling, writing this newsletter, or crafting novels, in which to process my thoughts and figure things out. How do people live without a container in which to place their astonishment at the world?
Aren’t you glad you’re a writer? Leave a comment and tell me the best part about being one.