“Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all of your intelligence. It is life at its most free.” –Annie Dillard, THE WRITING LIFE
If only I could write as well as Annie Dillard.
Right now, I’m writing on my balcony, in a not dissimilar way to a moment she describes in her book THE WRITING LIFE. Her balcony overlooks deciduous trees; mine a multi-laned San Diego road. But there are birds here, too. Like women peering through a shop window at a fabulous pair of shoes, hummingbirds fly up to gaze at my dark pink geranium through the clear glass railing. Crows wing past in squadrons as the sun sets. Songbirds whistle in the mornings. Even loud, green parakeets screech and flock in the trees lining the narrow lawn below at times.
We writers love to read what others have to say about the writing life. How many of us have read King’s ON WRITING more than once? Or Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY?
I’ve turned to Dillard’s book right now because I want to feel a little less alone in my struggle. Her metaphors delight. Her prose dances across the page. But she also writes…
The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever…Why not shoot yourself, actually, rather than finish one more excellent manuscript on which to gag the world. –Annie Dillard, THE WRITING LIFE
And there you have it. Both sides of the creative coin. Which brings me to my usual conflicted feelings about what I’ve chosen to do with my time on this planet, the deep, red, fiery heart center of my life.
I’ve worked at other jobs for money but left them as soon as I could because I’m not a person with a great deal of energy. A friendly and outgoing introvert, I often find working in public depletes my creativity. I used to think that was an excuse, but now I know it is simply the facts. When I’m free from outside-the-house work, I produce so much more.
Is it good writing? Maybe not, but it’s getting better. At this point in my life, that’s enough. Would I like to make a decent living making up stories for eager readers? God, yes!
Shawn Coyne, long-time editor and author of THE STORY GRID: What Good Editors Know, says, “Whether you know it or not, your desire to write comes from the urge not just to be ‘creative,’ it’s a need (one ever human being on earth has) to help others. A well-told Story is a gift to the reader/listener/viewer because it teaches them how to confront their own discomforts.”
Isn’t that great?
Dillard is a literary writer. Coyne is an editor/champion of commercial fiction. Both have something to teach about creativity and the creative process.
Here’s my take on the whole thing. Engaging in a creative project–whether literary or artistic or musical or home decorating or cooking or anything, really–can be exhilarating. If you put your whole mind and energy to your task, everything “out there” fades out. It’s there if you need to break a piece off to stick onto your creation, but it doesn’t intrude on the inner space you’ve built as a sort of psychic workroom for your project.
Hours pass, and you look up and realize you didn’t watch the news. Good!
I need to remind myself every so often that my life is also something I am creating. I look around for my supplies. The music that thrills me, the food and drink I prepare, the clothes I put on, the objects I arrange, the books I read, the movies I watch, and so on. Every day we build our lives. There is creativity there, too.
It doesn’t matter to me–or not very much–if others don’t care if I do my writing well. But I’m not going to shoot myself or stop writing. I will, as James Scott Bell suggested, “do what I can with it.”
Because, for me, writing is a part of the larger creation that is my life.
Was there ever a time where you felt absolutely exhilarated while you were creating something? Feel free to share your experience with us!
And remember to share a link to this post if you enjoyed it. Also, I’d love to publish some guest posts: fiction and non-fiction. For fiction, I ask that it be 500 words or so and women’s fiction, chick lit, romance, or literary. Non-fiction also around 500 words. Shoot me a message on my contact page if you have a proposal.