Thursday, February 24, 2011

The writing life

A week or so ago, my friend Lydia McGrew published this over at What's Wrong With The World, which lead me to this article by another friend, Beth Impson. Let me commend both of them to you - the blog post and the article. They sparked a meditation of my own on the subject of writing.

Some years back, I read Annie Dillard's book, The Writing Life. When I finished it, I threw up my hands and gave up. If she caves in the face of all those real, imaginary and self-inflicted obstacles to writing, what hope do I have?

She's right. Writing is hard. It forces you to face demons of all sorts. Worst of all, it puts you face to face with your own nakedness. Bright lights, big mirror - every bit of your own nakedness. No one in their right mind would ever make a career of it, embracing it as a calling -- unless they had no other choice. Some of us can't not write. Whether it is something as mundane as a grocery list or as eternally important as defending the faith in the public square -- we can't not do it. Whether it's the physical act of writing longhand or the satisfaction of typing the last period on the last paragraph, something in the very fabric of our being compels us forward.

It is a calling, a vocation to be embraced and cherished as well as feared and approached as carefully as one would a growling lion standing between you and something precious. It is to be welcomed in the light of day and labored at into the wee small hours of the morning. It is a craft that takes practice and failed attempt after failed attempt. Some day the words flow like a river of sweetest honey. On other days they are stopped as surely as the biggest beaver dam imaginable would stop a river. On these days you can force yourself by sheer act of will to put some words down outside of your head. And, if you think on these days that what you've written is crap, you are probably right. But each day you sit at your desk, curl up in a chair, find a table at the coffee shop and you write. You write. And you write. Some day God may bless you with a small check. You will go out and buy more paper and pens or another ream of paper for the printer. Some day, one of those bits of crap you wrote on a very bad day will return to you, it will nudge your elbow. With a little encouragement and cleaning up, it may begin to glow a bit dully. So you begin to pay it a bit more attention, to polish it and, yes, it begins to shine.

You love it and you hate it. Sometimes on alternate days and sometimes at the very same moment. You may be devastated at the rejection of a carefully crafted piece or surprised into laughter at the acceptance of something you threw together in an hour. Your friends will think you are brilliant, odd, just a bit strange, sometimes even a blessing. And you are all of those things.

Such is the writing life.


Beth Impson said...

Good post, Kamilla -- so true! (And thanks for the link.)

You might enjoy my discussion of Dillard's final chapter in WL at Inscapes:

Keep writing!!!

Marlena said...

I have that book! And last night I was just reading through Annie Lamott's Bird by Bird. Thank you for the writing encouragement and may God bless you in your efforts. Ever since I started writing, I find that "can't not write."