Sunday, December 5, 2010

Writing Through Obstacles, Wading Through Snow

Everyone faces a few roadblocks to writing, whether personal or creative - I'm in that place at the moment - and my own way to push through roadblocks is to turn to smart crafty type folks for inspiration.

We're now living in a small but cozy cabin in the Montana mountains and we do burn wood, mostly for pleasure, in the fireplace, and my industrious husband spent a number of weeks gathering what I thought was an extravagant amount of wood for this winter. Here's what the pile looked like in October.

All that wood brought to mind one of my favorite quotes, from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, about her time in a small cabin in Maine:

One night, while all this had been going on, I had a dream in which I was given to understand, by the powers that be, how to split wood. You aim, said the dream - of course! - at the chopping block. It is true. You aim at the chopping block, not at the wood; then you split the wood instead of chipping it.

Now, I really like that metaphor. I think it speaks volumes about life. Even when life throws up obstacles, like the massive (everyone's saying record-breaking) amounts of snow we've been having lately, and that are making life difficult, to say the least.

Dillard recognizes that this metaphor also speaks to writing:

Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know.

The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time's scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being there in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life's strength: that page will teach you to write.

There is another way of saying this. Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block.

Aim for the heart, aim for the eternal truth of your work; aim for the chopping block.


Julia Karr said...

Great post, Janet!

Janet Fox said...

Thanks, Julia. We all need a little inspiration now and again. :)