Posts Tagged With: writing life

The Writing Life – A Reflection

What does a writing life look like?  Most of the time a person of my ilk wants to be handed a list of 10 things to do to be a writer – knowing that doing these things will lead to a published book.  In school if I followed the teacher’s instructions I would receive an A and eventually I would graduate.  At work I could list goals, work towards them, and get a raise.  Success came via pretty clear roads.  However, with writing, as with most things, I’m beginning to see that this isn’t reality.

Annie Dillard expresses this very idea in her book, The Writing Life, by providing a view into her life of writing. Several reviews I read on Amazon were critical of the book because it did not contain that step-by-step guide.  As if by reading enough books on writing one can actually write.  Even though I may find a sense of comfort from those type of books, a sense that I’m doing something to further my writing project, I’m actually just putting off the real work.

Instead of providing a fool-proof system, Dillard pulls her readers out of their comfortable pictures of writing – just as she pulled her readers out of a romantic image of nature in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  Within these pages we are accosted not with images of writing at a desk overlooking a scenic lake – but of needing to find a place in a library where no outside experiences will intrude. Or, a cabin or tool shed where only the essential items are present – and sometimes absent, like heat.  For Dillard, “Appealing work places are to be avoided.”  She closes herself off from potential distractions in order to practice a great discipline of focused composing.  Yet, this is an element of her writing story, not something she claims is necessary for everyone.

Most importantly she shows that a writing life is a life first.  It’s not about being holed away and creating an alternative world – that can come later.  Instead it’s about living in this world and writing out of that living.  She emphasizes that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.  A schedule defends from chaos and whim” (32).  A writer does not wait for something to happen, but lives into the story.  I’m reminded of Donald Miller’s book A Thousand Miles in a Million Years later that explores what it is to live a better story.  As far as a road map to living a better story – it’s basically doing it, not following a list of instructions.

Dillard even pulls apart the tried and true method of planning to write – working towards a well conceived vision.  The vision of a piece of work is not what the final work will be or even an outline to complete.  It is a way to start, though, through the very act of writing, the vision itself may never fully be realized.   The material elements of paper, pen, screen and keyboard serve to limit, or change,that vision.  Words elicit other words.  Sentences, paragraphs, and pages evolve.

I’m not sure if I go along with Dillard’s spartan view of writing space.  Though, for me, maybe a seat belt may be in order to keep me sitting long enough to write deeply.  However, I’m with her in her call to living.  This book does not provide a path to writing success – go and find a spartan room and write.  Instead what the life in this book provides is a call to a waking life because “we still and always want waking”.

“There is no shortage of good days.  It is good lives that are hard to come by.”

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The Writing Life – Solitary or Communal?

What a solitary journey the writing life can be.  We create alone.  Only we as individuals can put pen to paper or fingers to keys to share the ideas that are in our minds.  We need time away from everything and everyone to reach the deep waters of creativity within.  Consider the image of a writer with well-worn clothes and crumpled paper at his feet, furiously working in an empty garret.  Or, within the walls of a beach house on an island looking out at the sea, typing away on the novel that has been welling up within her for years.

But do we have to be alone?  When working on individual projects it is necessary to spend time apart from others – sometimes many hours.  However, that does not mean that we are by ourselves.  We are surrounded by many who have gone before us – authors, teachers, family, or friends.  They are part of the community that has shaped and continues to shape us.  I can’t sit down to write without feeling a sense of the joy of reading.  That little girl who loved to hear her mother read books before bed is grown, but the comfort of those stories and of the people who shared them with me continues.

Walden Pond

In addition, as I write I am in the worlds of Jane Eyre and Heidi, Walden Pond and the Bible.  Books have and continue to be an essential part of my being.  I am drawn to the words and to the characters.  Sometimes I remember the plots and settings as if I had lived them.  I can return to them intentionally.  Along with their works, authors’ lives influence me as I learn about their inspirations, practices, and trials.  They are all part of this creative community.

Then there are those who are actively part of my writing today: teachers, writing groups, readers of blogs.  We sharpen each other’s art as we see how ideas play among a group.  To be honest, I’ve been reluctant to engage with such a community.  It’s safe to keep writing for myself and only dream about sending it into the world.  However, I’m more and more aware that writing is not only about putting words on a page in solitude.  It is also about engaging others with those words – and engaging with the words of others. The small writing group I’m involved with keeps me honest, provides thoughtful encouragement, and keeps me writing.  Through this blog I’m learning that there may be even more who are part of this community and who can hone this work.

Ultimately, that lone artist image isn’t so ideal or even true.  Writing and other creative endeavors do not need to be solitary practices. Why should they be?  The ultimate creator – God – created the earth in community as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and continues to even involve his ultimate creation, humanity, in this project.

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