Last week, I was browsing through the online catalog of my local library looking for an Annie Dillard book a friend had mentioned. She had referenced only the title of an essay, not the book itself, so I just searched on “Dillard, Annie” hoping I could fill in the blanks.
As it turns out, I actually own the book I was looking for, but in the search, I stumbled upon another title I hadn’t heard of by Dillard: Give It All Give It Now: One of the Few Things I Know about Writing. So I submitted an online request, and within a couple of days, the book was ready to be picked up.
I thought there had been some kind of mistake when I went to the Hold section of the library and saw the first three letters of my last name on a tag rubber-banded to a box. A box? But when I pulled it down from the shelf, there was the same title I had requested right on the front of the box, and there was “Annie Dillard” listed prominently as the author.
When I pulled the book out of it’s box, it fell apart like a giant accordion unhinged, and I saw a beautifully illustrated book with just a few giant words on each page. At first I thought perhaps this was a children’s book. But then I read the back.
“There is not a creator alive who doesn’t harbor anxiety when facing a blank canvas, computer screen, or audience.” I melted a little.
I harbor that same anxiety.
But why so few words? If this book is about how to alleviate the anxiety, shouldn’t there be more?
So, I set about reading the giant, hand-lettered words.
That’s how the book started, just a word or two per page. And this is Dillard’s thing she knows about writing. You can’t hold back. You can’t save up words, can’t keep the best ones for later. Each opportunity to write requires everything.
One of the few things I think about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.
And then a few pages later . . .
Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.
I almost cried.
Not because I do that every time I write. And not because I don’t. I nearly cried because it’s true.
When I hold back, when I save words or save myself for later, the writing is stunted, difficult. When I do write with abandon, when I open up what’s deep inside and give it all I have, I am more than just a communicator. I embody the mystery of a million cycle plays: truly a seed must fall to the earth and die or it will not produce life.
Just 124 words in that book, maybe one of the shortest I have read. Oh, and there’s an introduction and a synopsis, too, each longer than the book itself. I scoured those, looking for other clues. Other things Annie Dillard, a writer I deeply admire, might know about writing.
But that was it, just one thing. (She had forewarned me in the title, after all.)
It’s so much to give, such a sacrifice, to do it well: writing.
But what do I give up if I do it poorly, if I don’t do it at all?