The Writing Life by Dillard has been good, eventful even, but this chapter, Five, finally spit out what I was looking for. I think I almost have the entire chapter bookmarked–the thoughts, comments, quotations. I really appreciated how Dillard painted with words the life of a writer, that constant battle with written images. Argh. Such a life.

“People love pretty much the same things best. A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all(67).

“Thoreau said it another way: know your own bone. ‘Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life . . . Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.’ Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality? (68).

“Do you like sentences? (69).

“Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Ganguin, possessed, I believe, powerful hearts, not powerful wills. They loved the range of materials they used. The work’s possibilities excited them; the field’s complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and then loved them. They worked, respectfully, out of their love and knowledge, and they produced complex bodies of work that endure. Then, and only then, the world flapped at them some sort of hat, which, if they were still living, they ignored as well as they could, to keep at their tasks (71).

“Writing every book, the writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it? (72).

“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 heart, your back, your brain, and then–and only then–it is handed to you (75).

“Evelyn Underhill describes another life, and a better one, in words that recall to me that day, and many another day, at this queer task: ‘He goes because he must, as Galahad went towards the Grail: knowing that for those who can live it, this alone is life (78).

“Who but an artist fierce to know–not fierce to seem to know–would suppose that a live image possessed a secret? (78).

“After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: ‘Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time’ (79).”

I apologize for the length. Only, it all needed said.


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