Annie Dillard’s essays are the best kind of creative nonfiction. Her sentences are gorgeous and packed with meaning and yet succinct and wise. I always go back to one particular essay she wrote that was published in The New York Times in 1989. It’s called “Write Till You Drop” and, true to form, it probably has more advice for writers than most books dedicated to the subject.
One of my favorite parts is this:
At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then -it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbons and bows; it has two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s.
Lately I’ve been feeling that “sensation” tugging at me. It’s a good feeling to have. Sometimes I feel like I’d rather have my nose in a book than sit down and work on my own writing, but hey, reading is important for writers. I don’t feel guilty about all the hours I spend absorbing other writer’s words and being inspired. No one is ever saying that you have to be as prolific as Joyce Carol Oates, either. I’ve come to accept that I’ll probably never write as much as her, but it’s because I like to take my time mulling over a certain idea or turn of phrase. I’m okay with that. It’s quality and not quantity that counts; at least in MY book. That said, I’d like to set a daily goal for myself. I can work even better under deadlines. I used to be a journalist, after all, and it’s what I was trained to do.
You’ve probably heard of the Slow Food movement. Why not start a Slow Writers Movement, where it’s all about appreciating the craft rather than rushing through it? It’s not necessarily about how fast or slow you write, but more the process of stringing together words and sentences and even paragraphs, until miraculously, you don’t need to search anymore. You realize what you’ve been looking for has been in front of you all along.