annie dillard the writing life

annie dillard the writing life - THE WRITING LIFE THREE BY...

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Unformatted text preview: THE WRITING LIFE THREE BY ANNIE DILLARD @[hangofiett @[fi]@ Do not hurry; do not rest. ———GOETHE WHEN YOU WRITE, you lay out a line of words. The line- of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarye’r's’ pfibe. Ypu Wi€1d~.~ict,=afl’d it/‘dii-glsaaupathwyou:follw:**=S“o“on” you; find yourself deep in new territory: 'Is it a dead end, or have you located'th‘e 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. H'In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching i"."Itl‘ll'the angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. iv ocess is, nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I opéuyout tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the :‘Z‘rumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back. The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. 550 * THREE BY ANNIE DILLARD After giving many years’ attention to these things, you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannOt be helped_ There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is, Knock it out. Duck. Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff the work needs it, or the world. Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality: this writing weakens the work. You must demolish the work and start over. You can save some of the sentences, like bricks. It will be a miracle if you can save some of the paragraphs, no matter how excellent in them- selves or hard-won. You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now. (Are you a woman, or a mouse?) The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the cour- age to begin. Henry James knew it well, and said it best. In his preface to The Spoils of Poymon, he pities the writer, in a comical pair of sentences that rises to a howl: “Which is the work in which he hasn’t surrendered, under dire difficulty, the best thing he meant to have kept? In which indeed, before the dreadful done, doesn’t he ask himself what has become of the thing all for the sweet sake of which it was to proceed to that extremity?” So it is that a writer writes many books. In each book, he intended several urgent and vivid points, many of which he sacrificed as the book’s form hardened. “The youth gets to- gether his materials to build a bridge to the moon,” Thoi'eau noted mournfully, “or perchance a palace or templvexon the. earth, and at length the middle-aged man .concludes’toj‘build a wood-shed with them." The writer returns to these materi- THE WRITING LIFE 551 als, these passionate subjects, as to unfinished business, for they are his life’s work. It is the beginning of a work that the writer throws away. A painting covers its tracks. Painters work from the ground up. The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions, and obliterates them. Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right. The discardable chapters are on the left. The latest version of a literary work begins somewhere in the work’s middle, and hardens toward the end. The earlier ver- sion remains lumpishly on the left; the work's beginning greets the reader with the wrong hand. In those early pages and chapters anyone may find bold leaps to nowhere, read the brave beginnings of dropped themes, hear a tone since aban- doned, discover blind alleys, track red herrings, and labori- ously learn a setting now false. Several delusions weaken the writer's resolve to throw away work. If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable, like poetry known by heart; they will perfectly answer their own familiar rhythms. He will retain them. He may retain those pages if they possess some virtues, such as power in themselves, though they lack the cardinal virtue, which is pertinence to, and unity with, the book’s thrust. Sometimes the writer leaves his early chapters in place from gratitude; he cannot contem- plate them or read them without feeling again the blessed relief that exalted him when the words first appeared—relief that he was writing anything at all. That beginning served to get him where he was going, after all; surely the reader needs it, too, as groundwork. But no. Every year the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judg- . _ ment, Every year the old man studied the prints and painstak- ffiingly ordered them into two piles, bad and good. Every year ,therold mannioved a certain landscape print into the bad stack. Aff'length he turned to the young man: “You submit this same ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/28/2011 for the course CAT 1 taught by Professor Carlisle during the Spring '06 term at UCSD.

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annie dillard the writing life - THE WRITING LIFE THREE BY...

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