“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.” (The Writing Life by Annie Dillard)
There are two ways to explain something complicated. One is the direct approach. You come at the subject like a bulldozer, front and center, ramming into the pile of knowledge over and over until it is orderly and clear. The other approach is more mysterious, less direct. You sneak up on the subject, hoping not to scare off its complexity, and you wait for it to reveal itself. To get at the entirety, you might find yourself resorting to poetry, analogy, metaphor in order to hint at your subject without diminishing it.
Unlike most who write about writing, Annie Dillard approaches her subject in the second way – indirectly. She loosely connects stories, random thoughts, bits of poetry, and examples from famous writers’ lives to lead the reader down a mental path that points towards truth. In short, this book is a place where a writer might come, when blinded by the fear of one’s craft, in order be caught up by the unfamiliar. Then, instead of thinking of your own struggle with your work, you’ll think of the inchworm, inching its way into nothingness. The doomed pilot, feeling the rhythm in the air. The rower, rowing all night against the tide. It is very possible that disjointed stories like these will awaken the side of your brain needed more than tired, unexplained strictures about quote attribution and proper hyphenation.
Recommended Action: Buy –
Borrow Now – Borrow Sometimes – Avoid
Incidental Learning: Pilots, inchworms, how to find honey, facts about famous authors, etc
Further Reading: If the indirect approach is your preferred method of learning – stay way from Stephen King’s much lauded On Writing. Probably the only thing that would satisfy you after this book is more Dillard.