The High Cost and the High of the Writing Life

by - March 27, 2014

This final installment in my series on Annie Dillard's The Writing Life is posting a day early because I have a huge surprise tomorrow that is deserving of all the attention. So come back tomorrow for the big surprise.

Also, please note the links in this piece will take you to the other posts in this series, although not necessarily in order.

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In the final chapter of The Writing Life, Annie Dillard introduces us to Dave Rahm. He wanted to become an expert on mountains, so began studying geography. "Too pedestrian," geography proved to be a gateway drug into geology, then mountain climbing, flying, and ultimately air stunts.

It culminated in becoming a work of art in an airplane, and Dillard uses him as a metaphor for writing.

"When Rahm flew, he sat down in the middle of art, and strapped himself in. He spun it all around him. ... Rahm used the plane inexhaustibly, like a brush marking thin air. (page 110 and 96). His aerobatics stood out among the other pilots because:

  • he was more daring
  • he was freer
  • he followed his instinct (intuition) even to potentially perilous places

He refused to settle for safe, and it left his spectators gasping and crying out, hanging on his every air-brushed word.

The best artists bravely ignore the boundaries, pushing instinctively and intuitively in the direction of beauty. "He knew the mountain by familiar love and feel...; He knew what the plane could do and what he dared to do" (page 101).

Dillard said of Rahm and his air shows, "He was pure energy and naked spirit. I thought about it for years" (page 96).

Hemingway spoke of the same thing when he said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I want to do that. I think every writer does, but most aren’t daring enough. And it’s the one thing that sets apart brilliant from mediocre. It takes risking all, willingness to die on the page.

Lest you think I jump to dramatic conclusions, I cite the chapter's epigraph.
It's easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren't writers, and very little harm comes to them. —Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot
It's true: the most satisfying reading is bled to the page. Otherwise, the piece leaves me feeling that I wasted my time reading it.

Maybe it's time to put into practice all the writing advice I've collected and never implemented after all. Try my hand at Cameron's morning pages, Goldberg's timed writings with a constantly moving pencil. See what cowardice and bravery come. Let Hemingway get me started by writing one true sentence, the truest sentence I know.

My first attempt:
I don't know if I have "the writing life" in me—it apparently comes at a much higher price than I anticipated—but as much as I love my safety, I'm no longer willing to ever only be the one who was too scared to try. I might as well put my truest words out there and audaciously hope they linger in your thoughts for years.

Now, to find the daily courage for that sort of flying in the face of death.

If you are interested in more writing on writing, I have read these two pieces during my time with Annie Dillard that were thoroughly enjoyable.

Alexander Chee's personal essay in the Morning News called Annie Dillard and the Writing Life.
The Real Job of a Writer by Emily P, Freeman @ chatting at the sky.

See you tomorrow.

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