More from Annie Dillard:
"I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.
This tender relationship can change in a twinkling. If you skip a visit or two, a work in progress will turn on you.
A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, "Simba!"
The Writing Life
I love Annie Dillard because she makes me feel normal. She writes of being terrified of writing, of hating to write, of the danger and power and neurosis of writing. And I love it, because I feel all of these things, when I sit by myself in the early mornings and tap out a few more lines in my novel. The whole time I am so afraid.
Knitting is safe. It is rhythmic and soft, and I keep my knitting close to me while I write, so that when I come to the scariest parts I can grab it and soothe myself for a few minutes. It reminds me that there is order to the universe, that there are things that I can accomplish. I can turn a ball of yarn into a hat. Then I attack my keyboard again. It is perhaps not an accident that the one key that breaks occasionally is the backspace key.
Why the desire to write when it is so hard? So many things are more tangible. Chocolate is more tangible. Rocks are more tangible. Even a fish tank is more tangible. But something about a day is not complete without some kind of scrawling to record it. For me, a day without writing is merely that burning ball in the sky seemingly moving in an arc from one side to the other again. And again, and again.
It doesn't matter, but I have often wondered whether I can keep trying this, trying to write this book which is so uncomfortable for me, while I am mothery and soft the rest of the time. I mean, I leap straight from the somewhat intense things that I write about, into breakfast with toddlers. I think I can balance them, though. I think I can do it. I'm hedging a lot of bets on this.
On a completely different note, there are good things and bad things about community living. A good thing is that people are appreciative. They are appreciative when you bake bread for them, when you cook, when you watch their kids, when you say hello.
A bad thing is the opened can of evaporated milk that I found sitting shoved back out of sight on the kitchen counter tonight. Who knows how long it had been sitting there? By the look of it, for a long time.
More from Annie Dillard: