Novelist Alexander Chee recently wrote a beautiful, thoughtful essay about the time he studied writing under Annie Dillard. The essay is sprinkled with Dillard’s insightful little gems about the art and craft of writing, like this one:
- Don’t worry about being original … Yes, everything’s been written, but also, the thing you want to write, before you wrote it, was impossible to write. Otherwise it would already exist. You writing it makes it possible.
Okay, so they’re the sort of gems that make you scratch your head, lose yourself in confused contemplation for several minutes, and still think that maybe the idea is too advanced for a lowly mortal to comprehend. But still, the essay is certainly worth some head-scratching.
Apart from the writing insights he learned from Dillard, Alexander Chee offers yummy descriptive sentences all his own, like this one about revising:
- You could think that your voice as a writer would just emerge naturally, all on its own, with no help whatsoever, but you’d be wrong. What I saw on the page was that the voice is in fact trapped, nervous, lazy. Even, and in my case, most especially, amnesiac. And that it had to be cut free.
To me, this says that just writing a lot isn’t enough to find my voice. I must write consistently, with discipline, then cut out the bad bits, the lazy, nervous, and “trapped” bits, and what is left over after I’ve filled in these now-empty spaces may be my “voice.”
I’ll leave you with a final quote from the essay, something Annie Dillard said in her class:
- Talent isn’t enough … Writing is work. Anyone can do this, anyone can learn to do this. It’s not rocket science, it’s habits of mind and habits of work.