“The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

Dillard is a great writer, but I did not have the patience to enjoy or appreciate her little book on writing. I snatched Dillard’s book from the Barnes & Noble shelves because I heard of her before and I wanted to know what she had to say on writing.

I was excited to begin Dillard’s book since I’m often told how great she is. I thought that she would share some tips on how she got to be considered great. She does this, kind of, by using little anecdotes that highlight a certain quality that writers should have, or to give advice on the writing life. This is great but I would appreciate it more if I wasn’t impatient while reading.

I could not tolerate Dillard’s slow tread to get to the point. To me, some of the anecdotes go around in circles, like the loops Dave Rahm makes in his air show, before finally getting to the message. This pissed me off. By the way, I simply do not get why so many pages were spent discussing Dave Rahm. Of course, I liked it when Dillard got to the point straight away – “Write as if you were dying” – and then explain what she means or give the anecdote after stating the point.

I also couldn’t stand the weather in this book. It’s cold. Most of the book is spent discussing Dillard’s experience writing in a cold cabin in some woods. I have no idea how she made it through that. I abhor the cold though I live in a cold place and I cannot fathom writing while I froze. The weather turned me off.

Still, a part of me appreciates this book and has fallen in love with Dillard’s style and her descriptions of things and the way she sews the lesson into the seam of the anecdotes. It’s a small part of me but it greatly influences the rest of myself so I did not dash aside the book when impatience slowly tried to rule.

I will read this book again at a time when I can relax and appreciate the way Dillard crafted it. At a time when I can truly appreciate Dillard’s use of language and will not be put off by the pages spent discussing Dave Rahm. I will understand why she spent such a long time discussing him when I’m not trying to rush through the book,.

This one is not for a novice: someone who’s just entering the battle. This is for those who’ve been there a bit and need some insight or guidance. Dillard does make some great points and is funny in a dry sort of way.

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What am I to do with these thoughts in my head??!!

They are running rampant, I tell you!

They run around, banging on the cages of my mind, pleading for me to let them out but they always bang at the wrong time.

For instance, I was just taking a bath, in the midst of a nice shower actually, when sudden inspiration hit and I was barraged by a storm of thoughts. They hit me, one after the other, quickly and frequently. I had no idea of what to do. I mean, what does a writer do when she is suddenly ambushed by thoughts in the midst of her shower? Does she stop to quickly jot them down on a very damp piece of paper?

Maybe. Maybe that is the sign of a committed writer – one that will jump out of the shower, dash out the bathroom, and scramble for paper and pencil to catch those hardball thoughts beating her mind. I’ll make sure to do that next time.

By the end of my shower, my mind felt bruised and not one thought was left in there for me to jot down. All was forgotten. I sat at my desk with a pen in hand, waiting for them to return but they didn’t. They had already left the forefront of mind and were now traveling down to the forgotten dungeons. That dank, dark place where all forgotten things accumulate and are hard to recall.

Darn it! Those were some really good thoughts. Thoughts that could lead to an essay or maybe even the beginnings of story that would become a best-selling novel from which I could use the profits to pay off my $100, 000 educational debt. But the opportunity has passed and all I’m left with is the lesson from the experience (always have a notebook and pencil handy, even in the shower) and my $100, 000 debt.