The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

When the average person thinks of the artist, they think of an enlightened, solitary thinker that is creating art at the will of something greater than themselves. That is, the artist’s work comes from a place of ingenuity, as if the universe is passing on pieces of wisdom to these particular mortal beings, from which they contort and craft them into pristine pieces of paint upon canvas, music recorded onto tape, and poetry/prose written upon blank paper. We believe that these artists are working with effortlessness and urgency: They are unable to contain these cosmic ideas once they become aware of their greatness: An artistic work becomes something from nothing, all within a relatively short period of time.

Annie Dillard’s essay on the art of writing proves that the notion of the Writer is nothing more than a fallacy. While we might believe that the Writer is a grandiose, spiritually aware being able to write with simplicity and ease, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In Dillard’s opinion, the craft of writing is nothing more than a burden. The craft of art, whether it be music, painting, or writing, is an arduous lifestyle. There might be instances in which the writer is able to write with genuine freedom laid forth from sudden inspiration, creating a piece of art in a matter of spasms and flailing, but the likelihood of this is irrelevant. Rather, writing is a lifestyle; it is a daily struggle; it is both painstaking and fragmented.

The limited expression that writing allows for makes these matters even worse. Writers are limited by the matters of grammar, syntax, and linguistic patterns that have been proven to work. For the writer, it becomes a daily struggle, wherein they must belabor over the writing day after day, staring at the sentences that have come before, wondering whether they were even worth the effort in the first place. And for those that so dearly cling onto the sentences, paragraphs, and pages that had come before — to remember all of the time and effort that went into each word chosen, their progress is infinitely limited, for they are unwilling to admit that their artistic ventures might just be rubbish.

This writer, left to their own devices, are burdened by the mundane and solitary life: the ease for which distraction can creep into the room, the physical burden laid upon one’s shoulders by the expectations laid bare by the acclaimed writers that had come before them, the anxiety brought forth from the blank page, and the depression caused by questioning whether you’ll ever be able to truly encapsulate the beauty of this world through prose.

Yet, upon completion, for all of the burden present in the life of the writer, Dillard proves just how enthralling the struggle, can prove to be. The spiritual and natural form of her writing proves that the endeavor is worth it, whether for the beauty captured in her personal anecdotes or the wonder brought forth from her ruminations on the craft and literature. And while the personal pain and internal conflict of the writer are all quite real, her prose shows that it is well worth it.

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

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