Tag Archives: Annie Dillard

On Joy

A while back, fellow VCFA alum Lindsey Lane asked if I had a favorite quote about writing—and I did—and in January she posted mine in the “Quotable Tuesday” column in her blog, The Meandering Lane. After doubting myself and my writing last week, what a joy it was this week to re-read what I’d sent to Lindsey. My favorite quote comes from The Writing Life by Annie Dillard:

Annie Dillard

One of the few things I know about writing is this:  spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.  Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now… Something more will arise for later, something better.  These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.


This idea that something more will arise for later… that creativity begets creativity in the same way that love leads to more love, that it’s a growing thing, not something to hoard but something to give away because in the giving, somehow it grows into something even greater than it originally was… this is what excites me about writing. It’s what gets me up in the morning—this sense that I don’t yet know what might come of today’s writing. When I approach my writing with a sense of anticipation, of joy, of vulnerability because I’m opening myself up without knowing what I’ll find… I fall in love with the process. Again and again, I fall in love. It’s not about the finished product (well, yes, it is in the end, but it’s not along the way), but about the process of getting there.

For me, something about writing is therapeutic. It is spiritual. The process gives me a great sense of fulfillment. Now, I’m not talking about the business of writing. I’m talking about the process of creating something from nothing, a story from a blank white sheet of paper. I’m talking about wonder. About awe. About possibility, itself. About grace. About allowing my body to become a vessel through which a story tells itself. No, I’m not smoking anything funny while I’m writing this! I’m talking about joy. When I read Annie Dillard’s essays, I feel joy. That is what I love about writing.

On Creativity

Last month a young woman told me she was pursuing a PhD in children’s literature instead of an MFA because she “wasn’t creative enough” to write fiction. She reminded me of a time when I thought I wasn’t creative enough. A time when I preferred orderliness to messiness. A time when I was good at regurgitating facts and taking tests. A time when I didn’t understand or appreciate the nonlinear nature of the creative process—a process that isn’t easy to judge with an alphabetical grade: A minus, B plus.

Creativity is messy. It involves trial-and-error. Play. Experimentation. En route to the finished piece, a lot of work product gets thrown out. A whole lot—volumes more than what appears in the final manuscript, the final painting, the final musical score. The creative process is time-consuming and all-encompassing and often a singular activity, and I now pour hours of myself into it every week. It’s the most rewarding process I know. To create something from nothing is life-affirming and life-changing.

Although the goal might be the finished product—the book, the painting, the musical score, the play—the joy is in the process, itself. There are lots of books out there about embracing the process. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is one I’d recommend. When I read it, I thought some of her suggested activities sounded lame, but I did them, anyway, and the results surprised me. The activities loosened me up. My writing started to flow. It wasn’t polished writing, but at least it was flowing. Later I would figure out how to polish it.

When a person tells me she is not creative enough, I don’t buy it. We’re born to create. People who think they’re not creative enough probably have too strong of an internal editor or critic wagging a finger at them. Too much of a need to please some sort of parental figure or teacher. When we let go of that need to please and create for the sake of creativity, we discover infinite possibilities within. As Annie Dillard reminds us, such things “fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”