Writing Advice from Annie Dillard

I hope to be back soon, yakking away. In the meantime, here’s a little writing advice from Annie Dillard:

When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it; then the trouble is either of two things. Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split it up the middle–or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If you pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse, and you do not know about it yet, quite.

The Writing Life

Where she uses the word “book” you can substitute article, short story, poem, or blog post. It’s true for them all. The advantage to a blog post, of course, is who cares ;)? If you split your post, your readers will be willing to split with you (because they know you and are hanging out by the coffee pot, teapot, or Mountain Dew with you) or they will stop reading at the split and, if you’re lucky, drop by another day.  But in more formal writing, you have to create a beauty of unity every time (even if it does so by disunity).

The structure of my life is temporarily forked, fractured, and threatening collapse, but I might be melodramatic because on top of everything else this month, I’m drinking all liquids today. Guess what for? Haha, that’s right. The dreaded C-word. It’s my first colonoscopy, y’all!

Have a great week and TTYL!

Princess Kana and the Pea

on 20 mattresses and 20 feather-beds


Filed under #AmWriting, Blogging, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing Tips and Habits

48 responses to “Writing Advice from Annie Dillard

  1. I am motivational blogger & want to write every types of literature….
    Please guide me

  2. Hope your life gets a bit smoother soon, Luanne. Good luck with the colonoscopy. Mine was not nearly as dreadful as I thought it would be.
    Love the photo! 🙂

  3. Good luck with your “c.” Hope they don’t find anything.

  4. I’ve been getting colonoscopies each year since I was twenty…piece of cake! Wishing you the best, Luanne.

    • You sound like the gardener about the procedure. My prep hasn’t been good, and the gardener kept saying, “You should have used the one I used.” Finally he figured out it was not what I wanted to hear mid-prep hahahaha. Thanks, Jill.

  5. All the best, Luanne.

    • Thanks, Adrienne. Off to the hospital soon. I am craving turkey tacos from Del Taco for some reason. But you probably don’t have Del Taco by you.

  6. Great advice. Good luck on your test! Will be thinking of you. xo

  7. Hope the c-word went well! Let’s not forget – doing it can help prevent that other dreaded c-word. That said, I’m really due for another one. Argh.
    Re Annie Dillard’s post, I find that if you substitute “reading” for “writing” in her sentence: “When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it” – you then have the situation I’m in right now. I’m slogging through a book against my better judgment! Silly me. I just keep hoping it gets better! All because I happen to like the writer. Ay yi…

    • Ellie, you are so right. You better make an appointment . . . .
      Good point about substituting reading for writing. The thought even occurred to me as I was typing the post, but it was one of those passing thoughts I wasn’t able to grab and hold onto. I hate to quit a book–because that’s how it feels, like quitting. But sometimes there is no reason to keep going. I felt that way about Olive Kitteridge. It just did nothing for me. I finally did quit. And it felt so good hahaha.
      OK, I am heading out of here soon for the fun time at the hospital.

      • Sigh, ok, will talk to my doc at my next appt. (August!) Thinking of you! Hope it’s not too uncomfy!
        I used to be exactly the same as you, feeling like a quitter when I opt to quit reading a book. But now, my thoughts are: “Hey! Life’s too short!” So I try now to just stick with stories I love. I think the only reason I’m sticking with the current novel is that it has to do with planes and flying, which I find fascinating.
        OH, I forgot to mention – Princess Kana looks so lovely and regal on her pile of towels! Kiss Her Highness for me! I too have a royal lady cat, Princess Annie. Such dignity they have!

        • I suspect Princess Annie is a darling, too! Do you fly a plane? Or like to travel by plane? I am so afraid of heights, but sometimes I get kind of goofy and think I need to embrace my fears and learn to fly! (as in piloting). The colonoscopy went very well–thanks, Ellie! It took about 15 minutes according to my husband!

  8. Since you should have had it by now I’ll say that I hate colonoscopies, I hope it went well. And I hope your road soon straightens out 🙂

  9. Luanne, I hope you’re doing okay and that all will be better soon.
    I felt like I saw you and your daughter yesterday as rwo women with gorgeous hats approached me. xxx

    • Oh, that is funny! Were you picturing us as a blonde woman with her Korean daughter ;)? Didn’t you want to snap a pic of those hats? I would have wanted to so badly. I’m leaving soon for the hospital. Fun stuff!

      • All the very best in the hospital and what I saw was elegance in the hats. I was sorely tempted to ask them if I could take their pic to send you but I have a shy streak!!
        You take care and will be thinking of you. xxx

  10. The medical field has such unimaginative words. We need better ones. Half of the ones I’ve had I can’t pronounce, can’t spell, or find embarrassing. How about an “inner-look” procedure for a “C”? Or heart-pics for echocardiogram?

    • Oh, I love those! I hate the word colonoscopy. It sounds disgusting. “Inner-look procedure” definitely appeals to me! And heart-pics, too. Thanks for the suggestion (as if they would ever take it!).

  11. Ah Luanne, it’s not so bad. It’s the stuff you have to get rid of before the deed is done that’s bad! I’ve recently had my own. Good news? I don’t need another one for another ten years.

    • That’s right–it’s the prep that is so horrible! I got the chills and had such cramps. But the procedure itself was a piece of cake! And luckily I couldn’t hear them talking through the sedation because that has happened before and it’s unnerving! So glad you don’t need one for 10 years either! We’re in good shape, thank goodness!

  12. Oh Luanne, feel like my life is fracturing right down the middle…my youngest is going through some heavy ‘stuff’ and as carer and advocate, I’m struggling with my own set of mental and physical grief, as in I can’t take much more dealing with ‘professionals’ who are never available, don’t call back, can’t or won’t help and go off sick/on vacation/take days off regularly. Arrrgggh!!!!!
    But enough of that…I’ve only managed one blog post this month, somehow working as I can on my memoir revisions, trying to keep up…
    So sorry for your latest trials, I hope your kitties are all recovered now…beautiful photo of Kana as always <3 I've read through your other posts but haven't commented as on top of all the other 'stuff', I've had WP issues too, and leaving several comments on one blog seems to throw them into spam. This has happened several times. Hence my one comment here. Love your hats btw…and hope your're having a lovely time with your mom if still with you. As for the colonoscopy, I had my first one 18 months ago, the prep was by far the worst part, awful, but after that, thank God, all okay. Hoping the same for you… xoxo

    • Sherri, this made me sad. We can’t be happy when our kids aren’t happy, and I don’t like hearing that your youngest is having troubles. Your aspie, right? Oh, I feel for you!!!!! Yes, my kitties are fine now, although Pear is having an ultrasound because something is wrong with her bladder. But I want to give her the best medical care I can. She’s my oldest and my sweetest cat ever. In 17 years I have never felt her teeth except when I brush them haha. She doesn’t even pretend to bite me. Never. Not even once. You’re so right about the colonoscopy prep. Yikes, that was hideous. But the procedure, no big deal at all! Sending you many hugs through the computer waves!!!!

      • Ahh…sorry to make you sad Luanne. But you’re right, yes, my aspie. It’s been a tough month, but things are easing a little again now. We can’t be happy if our kids aren’t…we just can’t… Oh I’m so glad your kitties are fine again 🙂 Hoping all turns out well with dear, sweet Pear, what a gentle, darling beauty <3 Our Maisy is almost 15 and just the same with her teeth. So sweet. Eddie will sometimes give a 'play' nip, very gentle, but never, ever has he put his claws out, not once. How we love our cats!!! So glad you came through the colonoscopy…such a relief to have it all over with isn't it? And thanks for the hugs…I'm feeling them, and I'm hugging right back ! <3 xoxo

  13. Great advice!

    I hope your C went well!

  14. Luanne, what a great passage to share from Annie Dillard about writing and being “stuck.” (Love! the cat photo too, we have an all-black cat and she always looks very smart.) I have heard the notion that being stuck in writing is not about running out of ideas, but instead about something not quite “truing up” in the narrative you are working on. Some suggest it’s important to avoid berating oneself for not writing, and instead exploring what the obstacle seems to be, respectfully toward oneself, and seeing what turns up. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Black cats are so beautiful. I was at the vet this morning, and a lady had a beautiful black male cat with her. I fall in love with each one I see! Something not “truing up” is exactly what Dillard means, I think. That feels like the right explanation to me. The idea of writer’s block being a time when a writer doesn’t know what to write about is false, I think. Writers ALWAYS have something to write about. So this alternative explanation makes much more sense. Lovely to hear from you, Theresa!

  15. first time reading your post, so true about what you said about getting stuck while writing and its so frustrating as well, thanks for the advice though and good luck on your colonoscopy. shallybisoye.wordpress.com

  16. I love this piece of advice by Annie D. And trust me, I’ve struggled with those “hairline fractures” more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve also had times when I was unable to write or face writing because, in order to continue, I had to face unpleasant truths about my character, which really meant that I had to face unpleasant truths about myself or my views or my place in the world, even though I wasn’t consciously writing about myself, even though my character might not resemble me in the least. Writing is such a glorious thing at times, but it can also break you down, cause you to peel off your layers. That is not an easy, or pleasant, thing to do.
    Cheers and have a great week.

    • It’s so true, and it always leaves me in flaky layered pieces, as if I had many labels on me and could only succeed in peeling each partially off haha! And all that exploration means I end up in all grades of gray, but no black or white. Maybe that’s why I like black and ivory together so much–it’s just what I am not after tossing all these words all over the place. You have a great week, too!

  17. Oh Luanne, lots of things… most important hope all the medical stuff works out, and you can settle back into your life with peace of mind. Secondly, I love, love love your cat pic… delicious… thirdly I love just as much the glorious Annie Dillard… Pilgrim at Tinkers creek is one of my favorite books..
    Go well, I’ll be thinking of you…

    • Isn’t Kana just a love, though? And, like all my cats, she is just like the princess who felt the pea through 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds! Annie Dillard is an amazing writer and observer. In that, she reminds me of you, Valerie!

  18. My hero, Annie Dillard!

  19. I’ve had two colonoscopies and I’m done. My doctor brings it up and I shrug and he doesn’t push (thank god!). Kana is a beauty but then all your kitties are.

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