Friday, August 31, 2007

Write as if You Were Dying

“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an
audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case.
What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say
to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”
(Annie Dillard)

Barbara Demarco-Barrett of Pen on Fire, is responsible for me finding the essay Write Till You Drop, by Annie Dillard which was published in the New York Times May 28, 1989. I know that was quite sometime ago, but some words are timeless and I think Dillard's are just as relevant to the 21st Century as then.

Dillard says that every book has an inherent impossibility, which is what a writer will notice as soon as the excitement for the project begins to dwindle. You write in spite of it. You have an idea, a plot, THE story, it has come to you on wings with your name on it, maybe just one line at a time but it is there nonetheless. I love Dillard’s words, “It’s like something you memorized once, and forgot.”

What do you write? Complex stories, poems, articles, essays? They all have the same difficulty as does a long novel. But do you think it is better to throw yourself into a bunch of little projects or should you exhaust your energy into one big book? Dillard says you should spend it all in one long project.

You know the saying “use it or lose it”. Creativity should not be bottled up or saved for another time. Ideas are saved and planned but when the words begin to flow don’t try to stop it. Give everything you have. Don’t lock it up. Write about winter in the summer.

Remember the last time a line or a few words were delivered to you magically, or so it seemed, and your fingers went flying over the keys. You couldn’t stop until you had spent all that you had received. This is the experience I am talking about. You are sitting at the keyboard or writing pad. Tapping your toe; thinking; “I wonder if Diane is going to call me.” Your mind is wandering from one place to the next like the balls in a lotto drum going round and round and never landing. You never see the words coming until they are in your face. You write till you drop.

Further, as writers we are also readers, so what do you look for in a writer? Are you looking for wisdom or courage? Why else do you read? I must admit I read for knowledge and entertainment. I am always inspired by other people’s words.

Write it down,