Category Archives: Writing

Annie Dillard As Writing Model

Immersing Myself in The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

 

Annie Dillard lived on my bookshelf for years before I got around to reading  what she had to say. Although I don’t remember what motivated me to open her book, I finally did. I must have seen a quote from Annie Dillard while reading the blogs of others and I promised myself I would read her. My journey into her books started with The Writing Life about three weeks ago. I wanted to learn more about how to write. The quote in the photo above comes from The Writing Life, which I finished last night.

In The Writing Life Dillard states that “The writer studies literature, not the world.” The point she was making was that only as we let literature shape us, can we maybe begin to shape literature.

Dillard had obviously observed the world, at least the world of nature, carefully, as even the first chapter of has shown me. She warns us that we should carefully choose what we will read, since that is what we will write. If we would write literature, we must read it. If we would write poetry, we must read it. If we want to even blog, we must read other blogs.

Exploring Tinker Creek With Annie Dillard as Guide

After finishing The Writing Life,  I began to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which won a Pulitzer Prize. Unlike many of the books I’ve been reading and reviewing, this one requires slow reading. I keep a notebook and pencil within arm’s reach. It’s not normal for me to study a book this way, but there is too much for me to grasp unless I take notes and write quotes.

It’s important to study Dillard’s use of words and the way she constructs the sentences she spends so much time writing. I use the notebook to record my observations as I read, as well as  some examples of her effective use of words. As I continue to study the book I will try rewriting her ideas in my own words. Benjamin Franklin learned to write by copying the ideas of others and trying to rewrite them, without looking, in his own words.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is not a book most people would enjoy. It is a book of exploration, heavy with ideas. As Annie explores Tinker Creek, she compares herself not to a scientist, but to an infant exploring his environment, bewildered by all he sees, trying to figure out his world and where he fits into it. She describes it this way on page 12: I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise  have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell. 

 Annie Dillard As Writing Model

This echoes what I feel when I sit down to write. I want to reveal to others something they might utterly miss were I not to write it down. But first I must catch sight of it myself as my spirit interacts with what I see in the natural world and I perceive a new truth or relationship to a previous observation.

Walks with My Camera Help Me Observe

Annie walks, and so do I. She observes much more than I do, and she is much better at putting what she sees into words. Walking exposes one to nature as nothing else does. When we walk we slow down to a speed that allows us to see. 

 Annie Dillard As Writing Model
Taken at Alice Keck Park in Santa Barbara, © B. Radisavljevic

I take photo walks with my camera in my hand. Somehow that camera helps me see more, since I continually see photos in my head – single shots that force me to concentrate on my subject in detail. The photos also help me recall the details when I want to write. Walking is one way I cure writer’s block when it dulls my senses and sucks my motivation to write from me. I cannot take a walk without observing something in a way I’ve not regarded it before.

My Reading Goals

I plan to spend much more time reading Annie Dillard. I probably will never write as well, but I can learn something by Annie’s example that will help me improve.There is much to use as a model in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. 

I will be buying the book so I can mark it up as I read. Studying a pro will help me discover the shape and style of my own contribution and bring it into being. Meanwhile, I will practice. And I will continue to read The Writing Life.  If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you get a copy.

How did you discover your writing style or voice?

IMMERSING MYSELF IN THE WRITING OF ANNIE DILLARD

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A Writer in Search of a Book Idea

I’ve been following the pages of other book reviewers who blog, and I came across a review of Derek’s Revenge by Mac Black written by Rosie Amber.  I haven’t read the book, but her review begins like this: “Derek Toozlethwaite is a journalist in Newingsworth who is trying to write a book. So far he has failed to find a suitable subject for his book….”

Many of us would dearly love to write a book. More and more people are actually doing it now that they can self publish. Some of these people have a book inside them screaming to be written, and those writers live inside their books long before they enter them onto their keyboards. Their books nag them until they are written

Others, like Derek, know they want to write a book, but they have no idea what sort of book they will write. Perhaps I’m waiting for a book to rise up within me and demand to be written, but as yet it hasn’t. I can’t imagine writing any other way, because I need passion to write. I simply know my book, if it ever happens, will be nonfiction. I suspect it will have to do with nature, possibly of a devotional nature.  I feel the faintest stirring, but for now blogging and writing on content sites satisfies my writing urge. I have a long way to go to develop my craft so it will be ready if or when I become pregnant with a book.

Which type of writer are you? One who wants to write and goes looking for book ideas? Or one who is impelled to write a book which is already lurking in your mind and trying to take over? Or is there another way to approach book writing I haven’t considered?

 

 

What is a Writing Life?

 

Each writer’s life is different,  but Annie Dillard describes accurately the process we all go through in her book The Writing Life
.  Writers are constantly building with words, and then demolishing what they have built to create a more desirable piece of work. We ride waves of inspiration and translate them on our keyboards or notebooks. And then we get cold water dumped on us when we realize we need to delete and rewrite.

Living the writing life means that all else I do in life  contributes material for writing. I always learn and  observe as I live out my roles as wife, bookseller, photographer, cook, gardener, and the rest.  I write nonfiction exclusively, with an occasional bit of poetry. What I do, where I go, and those I meet often turn up in my articles, since I’m always asking myself which of my interactions or activities someone else would find entertaining, informative,  or thought-provoking.

The writing life is a curious life. I often ask questions such as

  • What if?
  • What else?
  • Why?
  • Why now?
  • Why not?
  • What is she thinking?
  • What is it?
  • How did it get there?

My writing life is one with plenty of solitude. It takes time alone to think, to reflect, to read, and, of course, to write. Perhaps others can write with people nearby. I can’t. I need uninterrupted time to organize my ideas and get them written. I also need quiet.

Quote: One can write in solitude, but not in a vaccumMy writing life is  a reading life.  One can write in solitude,  but not in a vacuum. Conversations and books provide ideas for me to interact with and build on.

My photographs are also an important component of my writing life. The camera lens often shows me what my eyes don’t .  My photos often suggest topics I hadn’t considered writing on, and motivate me to learn more about what I have captured with my camera.

Of course, that one thing all writers need is time to transfer their ideas into writing.  I am learning to be flexible and see interruptions and unscheduled activities that take me away from my computer as opportunities to learn something new I might be able to write about.

How do you handle interruptions in your writing life?