Annie Dillard on Writing Well: “Spend it all every time.”

Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard is “best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan University.”   [Wikipedia]

Here are some of her cogent perspectives on the writing life from her book by that name.

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“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.

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place… Something more will arise for later, something better.”

“Assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case… What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”

“Many fine people are out there living, people whose consciences permit them to sleep at night despite their not having written a decent sentence that day, or ever.”

“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. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then — and only then — it is handed to you.”

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“When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow.

“Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year.

“You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins. The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool.

“The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all the angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless.

“Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.”

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Most quotes are from article: Annie Dillard on Writing by Maria Popova.

From Annie Dillard’s book The Writing Life.


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