Notes on a Buddhist path

A Writing Life

April 16, 2012 By | 2 Comments

“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as a dying friend. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”~ Annie Dillard

Last week a writer friend of mine dropped by for a visit. As we caught up on the doings and goings on in our lives, our conversation ebbed its way to writing and the projects we were working on.

At one point I eyed him as a possible commiserating ally, sharing my desire to live a writing life devoid of the yoke of a Monday-Friday desk job which I have hitched myself to most of my working life.

He didn’t bite. Instead he told me that he often finds a deadline or sparse little time to finish a project often translates into a job completed and completed well.

Truth be told, I think he’s right. My recent dedication of Sundays to writing, harnessing those compressed hours for creation has heightened my sense of words and ignited a hunger for the craft of writing. I just re-read one of my favourite books, “The Solace of Open Spaces”, a brilliant expanse of prose by Gretel Ehrlich. She writes of life in Wyoming with the rawhide hand of a lover for this place and for words. Sharing the intimate marriage of the land and the seasons, she writes this of winter:

Winds howl all night and day, pushing litters of storm fronts from the Beartooth to the Big Horn Mountains. When it lets up, the mountains disappear. The hayfield that runs east from my house ends in a curl of clouds that have fallen like sails luffing from sky to ground. Snow returns across the field to me, and the cows, dusted with white, look like snowcapped continents drifting.”

Reading such literary ambrosia I can’t help but marvel at the dance of caress and cadence Ehrlich has created. The words are familiar to us all, but it’s when the words are chosen with an eye to rapture that the exquisite result is a passage such as this which rises to a level of creation akin to lovemaking.

At one time I dreamed of pursuing a masters degree in creative writing. Now I’m of the school that created bastions of notable and not so known wordsmiths whose only imperative was this: writers read and writers write. I read what I want to write. I follow the tapestry of words, pulling apart its warp and woof, unraveling the threads of tense and story to decipher how the writer did it. Sometimes I’ll re-read a paragraph over and over again just to let it soak into the viscous marrow of my soul.

Working on my own pieces it sometimes feels like a rush of inspiration pouring down me like a waterfall so much so my fingers can barely keep up on the keyboard. Other times I’m digging what Annie Dillard calls a “line of words [with] a miner’s pick”, searching in vain for even a glimpse of diamond buried in a mountain of black coal. Taking a break from my writer’s blockade often spurs on a fresh new fountain of words, whispered in such luscious syncopation as to only be that of a gifted muse. I rush to collect them in the basket of my memory before the contents of their worth drips from my consciousness like so much succulent honey.

Will I ever be a great writer? It doesn’t matter so much these days. My aspirations for fame still breathe, yet the potency of their lure has faded as my age has brought me further on the path of this life. I want to be a better writer as much as I want to be a better human being. I think they can go hand in hand. With life, as with words, grace has a way of showing up if only allow ourselves to get out of the way.

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.” ~ Annie Dillard

Excerpts from The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, Harper and Row Publishers, copyright 1989.

Excerpt from The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich, Penguin Books, copyright 1985.

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