Last week, in an attempt to read something related to my actual career, I picked up Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life at my local library. I imagined I’d slog through it and then return to my summer diet of mysteries and the latest fiction releases. But, I found myself engaged from the moment I began to read the first chapter and I thought about some of her vivid and absurd prose, long after I reluctantly closed the last page.
Dillard is quirky, engaging, and a hard and insistent worker, a combination of traits I very much identify with. She’s a writer that things happen to, whether because she has an openness that attracts the unusual, or because she is simply more attuned to the life surrounding her than most people. Two of her stories, one about the mysterious midnight chess game she played in the library without ever questioning why, and the other about her brief, but powerful experience in a single-engine Cessna with stunt pilot Dave Rahm, linger with me still. There’s something about these particular experiences that seems to capture the very essence of the writing life, that feeling of sometimes living in a universe separate from the one most people inhabit. Dillard’s world is a magical place where anything can, and often does, happen to those who dare to live at the edge and to push the limits, whenever possible, both in their writing and in their life itself.
Mid-book, Dillard says that every writer must solve two problems before they begin a book. One is “Can it be done?” and the other “Can I do it?” Her answer, “And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he” cheered me greatly, as did her assertion that, if is just as difficult to write sentences for a recipe than it is to write them for Moby Dick, you might as well write them for Moby Dick!
The Writing Life is a book I believe I’ll read more than once, mostly because it reinforces one of my core beliefs; you must write as you live. If you can’t take risks and try new things and be bold and imaginative and colorful in your day-to-day life than both you and your writing will be only a shadow of what you could have been. And that would be the real tragedy.
Have you read any good craft books this summer? Feel free to share the titles!