Annie Dillard

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.



Put it All On the Page, Put It All on the Page Now

I'm a junkie for writing books.

The good ones get me so excited about writing that I have a hard time finishing them because I put them down to go write (sort of like what I hope this blog does for people).  And even the bad ones generally offer some tidbit or another.

So when I saw a new book on writing by Annie Dillard, called Give it All Up, Give It All Up Now: One of The Few Things I Know About WritingI eagerly snatched it off the shelf.  The book had a colorful, bright cover done in gorgeous watercolors and that was enough to drive me to the bookstore cash register, even though the entire thing was shrink-wrapped.  No matter.  I anticipated serious and weighty thoughts on writing, precious secrets, and glorious inspiration.  I was excited and couldn't wait to get home to read it.

Imagine my dismay when I slit open the plastic that surrounded it and found that it is essentially a gift book, a coffee-table type volume that opens up in accordion folds.  The watercolors are awesome, but the words on the page are few, and to save you the trouble, basically they are variations on the theme of the title:  Give it all up, put it all on the page, don't hold back, don't hoard words…and so on.

I was angry at myself for succumbing to the lure of yet another book (something I've been doing since I was a tiny child so I don't know why I ever expect to change) and mad at Annie Dillard for enticing me to buy this worthless piece of @#$%^.

But here's the funny thing:  I've found those words ringing in my head ever since.  Give it all up, I hear as I open the computer.  Put it all on the page, the voice whispers as I begin to right.  Don't hold back, gets told to me as I pick up my pen to write in my journal.  It is not a new sentiment.  One of my most favorite self-help books ever has a chapter titled with similar words.  (I can't remember the exact book, but check out the amazing Alan Cohen's site and read anything by him.)

And so now I have come to believe that these are the most profound words on writing you'll likely ever hear.  So deep and yet so simple.  Give it all up, give it all up now.  Put it all on the page, put it all on the page now.  Don't hold back, splash it all out there.  Collapse, exhausted, from the effort, rest awhile and then rise to do it all over again.

STAY TUNED for an announcement about an exciting contest with an awesome prize to be held right here on this very blog.