1. Thoughts from The Writing Life
Since these are all from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, I suppose they will have to count as one quotation. Still, because I believe this is an essential book for anyone who considers writing to be a spiritual pursuit, I think Dillard is worth quoting at some length.
I urge you to buy and read this book.
Here are a few things she has to say:
Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French windows, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees. The furniture is in place, you go back for your thermos of coffee. Then wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down in the chair and look over the desktop. You can see clear to the river from here in winter. You pour yourself a cup of coffee.
Birds fly under your chair. In spring, when the leaves open in the maples' crowns, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies. Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.
The materiality of a writer's life cannot be exagerated. If you like metaphysics, throw pots. How fondly I recall thinking, in the old days, that to write you need paper, pen, and a lap. How appalled I was to discover that, in order to write so much as a sonnet, you need a warehouse. You can easily get so confused writing a thirty-page chapter that in order to make an outline for the second draft, you have to rent a hall. I have often "written" with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table's edge and pace out the work. You walk along in rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple of hours, you have taken an exeedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet.
A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, "Do you think I could be a writer?"
"Well," the writer said, "I don't know... Do you like sentences?"
The writer could see the student's amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am twenty years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, "I liked the smell of the paint."
Writing every book, the writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it? Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles. The problem is structural; it is insoluble; it is why no one can ever write this book. Complex stories, essays, and poems have this problem, too––the prohibitive structural defect the writer wishes he had never noticed. He writes it in spite of that. He finds ways to minimize the difficulty; he strengthens other virtues; he cantilevers the whole narrative out into thin air, and it holds. And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he. For there is nothing in the material for this book that suggests to anyone but him alone its possibilities for meaning and feeling.