March 23, 2007 (almost exactly 2 years ago), I included the following quote in my blog post entitled Give it All:
One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is a signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly is lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes. ~Annie Dillard from The Writing Life
That post did not reveal how I first found these luminous words. I was working at a public library at the time, and employees had to slog through “shelf reading” for an hour every morning as an attempt to keep the many books in proper Dewey order. This became tedious very quickly, because the call numbers can be quite long. Every once in a while I would grab a book, crack it open, and see if anything interesting caught my eye. Well, one morning I was in the 800 section, and happened to pull The Writing Life from the shelf. My thumbs parted the pages and displayed the quote you just read above.
I am sure everyone else, shelf reading in all the various rows near to me, heard my sharp intake of breath. My eyes were tearing, my heart felt filled to the brim.
The Writing Life was not put back on the shelf that morning. I checked it out, just to allow me to read that incredible quote over and over. Then I read the entire book, after which I bought it so I could underline and make notes on every page.
I have a poster of what I call the “Give it all quote” on my wall.
Well, this morning Amazon was kind enough to inform me that some brilliant artist (why didn’t I think of that?) has collaborated with Dillard to produce a “distinctive accordion-page book” which contains 20 color illustrations and is enclosed in a slip case. The product description assures me that this would make a wonderful gift for any of my artist or writer friends!
I described the artist as brilliant even before I looked at the his/her work (or name), just for coming up with this idea. But Sam Fink has had a long and distinctive career as a calligrapher.
I’ve already ordered my copy. As if I could I resist: Dillard’s quote is an eight sentence course for becoming the best writer, or artist, you can be.