Friday, May 4, 2012


*It is easy, after all, not to be a writer.  Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them. -Flaubert

This is your life.  You are a Seminole alligator wrestler.  Half naked, with our two bare hands, you hold and fight a sentence’s head while its tail tries to knock you over.

At its best, the sensation of writing is that any of unmerited grace.  It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.  It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.  You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then—and only then—it is handed to you.

One line of a poem, the poet said—only one line, but thank God for that one line—drops from the ceiling.

If a shoe salesman fails to appear one morning, someone will notice and miss him.  Your manuscript on which you lavish such care, has no needs or wishes; it knows you not.  Nor does anyone need your manuscript; everyone needs shoes more.

Out of a human population of five billion, perhaps twenty people can write a serious book in a year.  Some people can lift cars, too.

Sometimes part of a book simply gets up and walks away.  The writer cannot force it back in place.  It wanders off to die.  It is like the astonishing—and common-starfish called the sea star.  From time to time a sea star breaks one of its arms off and no one knows why.

The written word is weak.  Many people prefer life to it.  Life gets your blood going, and it smells good.  Writing is mere writing.  It appeals only to the subtlest senses—the imagination’s vision, and the imagination’s hearing.  This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else.

You can read in the space of a coffin, and you can write in the space of a toolshed meant for mowers and spades.

There is no shortage of good days.  It is good lives that are hard to come by.

*It should surprise no one that the life of a writer is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation.  Many writers do little else than sit in small rooms recalling the real world.

 *Why people want to be writers I will never know, unless it is that their lives lack a material footing.

*I do not write a book so much as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.

 *Write as if you were dying.  What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon?

*It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in ‘Moby Dick.”  So you might as well write ‘Moby Dick.’

The writer studies literature, not the world.  He lives in the world; he cannot miss it.  If he has ever bought a hamburger, or taken a commercial airplane flight, he spares his readers a report of his experiences.  *He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write.  He is careful of what he learn, because that is what he will know.

“The Writing Life,” by Annie Dillard