Dillard manages to show the intense intellectual and physical
work of writing and still make the challenge appealing. Excellent writing is not accidental. Though I read this book many years ago, I still recall some of Dillard's writing advice (although I did need to look up the wording):
"One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, lose it, play it, all, every time, right away.
Do not hoard what seems good for a different place...Something more will arise for later, something better..."
"The writer knows her field - what has been done, what could be done, the limits - the way a tennis player knows the court. And like that expert, she, too, plays the edges. That is where the exhilaration is. She hits up the line. In writing, she can push the edges. Beyond this limit, here, the reader must recoil. Reason balks, poetry snaps; some madness enters, or strain. Now gingerly, can she enlarge it, can she nudge the bounds? And enclose what wild power?"
Dillard asks, “Why write?” Although Dillard interjects personal anecdotes throughout the book, it’s telling that more often than not Dillard uses the pronoun, “you,” or the more general, “the writer,” rather than “I”; as is her habit, she remains a liminal presence.
Writing, Dillard tells us, is hard work. Contrary to popular myth, typically writing does not “flow” but emerges slowly, painfully—a few words or lines at a time—over a period of years. Given the difficulty of the task and the amount already written, Dillard ponders why anyone should write at all: “Why not shoot yourself, actually, rather than finish one more excellent manuscript on which to gag the world?”
Dillard answers by analogy. Much like the stunt pilot she describes at the book’s end, one writes to penetrate the world, to create language that exceeds possibility in the same way the pilot’s maneuvers defy reason: “he furled the line in a thousand new ways, as if he were inventing a script and writing it in one infinitely recurving utterance until I thought the bounds of beauty must break."[partially from a prior publication:]