"Write as if you were dying"

I’m kind of at a crossroads – I know I need help with craft and form and I wonder how much of it I can do myself or if I can do any of it myself? I suppose there was a time way way back when when writers did not go to grad school, they were apprentices like blacksmiths took on or shoemakers or lawyers. I know what I need is consistent feedback and I know in this world that usually means paying someone and I’m trying to wrap my brain around low-residency, high residency, workshop, seminar, vacation days, full-time job, non-expendable income blah blah blah.
There’s a summer workshop in NYC at NYU – OMG would that not be incredible?? Living in the city for a month, writing where all these incredible writers wrote, living in the city for a month! I only need to take a huge leave of absence unpaid and somehow come up with $10,000. How do these young writers do it? Even low-residency programs where you do the bulk of the work on your own each semester still have a 10-20 day residency twice a year. There’s no way. That’s twice as much vacation as I get. I just can’t swing it.
For now, I’m scavenging the internet looking at syllabi from last year’s NYU program seeing which text books, readings, handouts I can scrounge up on my own. I’m going to keep reading books about poetry and reading poetry and trying to write poetry and someday, maybe somehow things will begin to click. I know where my weaknesses are. How do we get past them on our own?

There are so many good quotes in “The Writing Life,” by Annie Dillard. I mentioned that book once before a few weeks ago…

“This is your life. You are a Seminole alligator wrestler. Half naked, with your two bare hands, you hold and fight a sentence’s head while its rail tries to knock you over.”

“At it’s best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then-and only then-it is handed to you.”

“‘The most demanding par of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity,’ – Anne Truitt, the sculptor said this.”

“Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life. … Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.” Thoreau

“Write as if you were dying.” Annie Dillard

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6 Responses to "Write as if you were dying"

  1. Ms. Moon says:

    I write so that I do not die. Daily.

    • rachvb says:

      ah ah that too. Well said. I am a basket case with it and without it. There is no salvation. =) Which is why people say writers are born, I think. It is a calling.

  2. Having recently taken on a large self-assigned writing project I never knew I was equal to – I believe I am – I can’t even remember what I used to do or who I used to be before this became, pretty much, everything. I turn 68 in less than 2 weeks. It will, it does, happen. I swear. And the way will come to you, for you, without your having to figure it out. That’s the best part. I am finding that just doing the writing kicks open a door through which every unlikely thing has begun to enter. The train to nowhere and everywhere. Continue, proceed. xo

    • rachvb says:

      Marylinn, amazing. I’m so excited to hear about your project and even more excited to hear of your “obsession” =) I always like to think of writers deep in their work, getting their hands dirty, molding the clay, rolling around in paint. You are right. Things will come. I think I start to panic each year it doesn’t happen because our culture is so obsessed with youth and early success and I forget that a writer is like an aged cheese =) OK, a bottle of wine or anything that gets better and better as we go along. Many writers I love didn’t have their first book until 35+ I have plenty of time. I have my whole life. Work write sleep be. xo

  3. One day, two of the characters (who may not make the final cut) got named for types of cheese. Last night I dreamed I was forging autographed photos for a singer named Lionel L. Stilton. It is cheesy world. I have the mold and crust to prove it. I look to Ray Bradbury and feel (for a moment) like a miserable slacker. We do best when we go at our own pace and not that of someone else. It is said that things happen FOR us and not TO us. It may be so. xo

    • rachvb says:

      Blue and Havarti, I hope =)
      I love that dream. I can’t really comprehend my dream last night – just images, but it involved diving and my mom was there.
      You are so right. So right. For us, indeed. xo

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