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The Writing Life – Homage to Annie Dillard


I found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win. You abandon your masterpiece and sink into the real masterpiece  (Leonard Cohen)


In her book, The Writing Life, Annie Dillard talks about an American writer who has written a dozen major books over six decades. A book, she says, can take years to write. But this writer wrote one of his books, ‘a perfect novel, in three months. He still speaks of it, with awe, almost whispering. Who wants to offend the spirit that hands out such books’? (Dillard, The Writing Life, 13).

She describes the heroism it takes to write a book. The impossibility of the task and the humility required to meet it. ‘Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff that 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’ (Dillard, The Writing Life, 4).

The book, finally completed, conceived in your mind and constructed through your efforts doesn’t belong you. It never has. It came to you through an act of grace, unmerited. That it came to you at all is still a mystery. All you remember is the struggle, the awful daily struggle to find the words, the unease which remained with you from beginning to end: Can I do it? Can it be done? It was horrible. It almost killed you. It did, in fact, kill you and what was left in the wake of that devastation was the work, for which you are grateful. Continue reading The Writing Life – Homage to Annie Dillard