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“One of the 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 the 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 becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.” - Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
There once was a young writer living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia who decided to take a year visiting the same local creek nearly every day. During her visits, she would sit and look and sometimes even “stalk” plants, insects, and animals making their lives inside the creek and along its edges.
She spotted muskrats munching tufts of early spring grass, she rescued dozens of praying mantis egg sacks from ravenous ant packs, she said, “Boo!” to a grasshopper who landed on her shirt one summer day, she watched frogs settle themselves deep beneath the muddy bottom to hibernate for winter, and she let the beauty of the afternoon light filtering through a cedar tree stop her in her tracks.
This writer’s name is Annie Dillard, and when she was twenty-eight-years old she wrote a book about all that she observed during her daily visits to this little patch of earth and titled it Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Much to her surprise, the book was a huge success and was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1975. In 1998, the book was included in the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Nonfiction Books.
What I’ve learned from recently rereading Dillard’s Pilgrim and her book on writing, The Writing Life, has put an end to something I’ve struggled with for years (knowing I had to come up with a new book idea every twelve months.) It’s this: don’t hold back, don’t hoard, don’t be stingy. Spend the good stuff – the ideas, observations, characters, plot twists, showdown scenes, metaphors, descriptions – as if it’s going out of style. Write like a prodigal. Write like a person who has been given a talent and wants to multiply it. Write like a basket of a few loaves and fish.
Trust, have faith, that more good stuff will come. That you’re still learning. That there is more, more, so much more to discover.
If Dillard can look at a little creek for a few seasons and find countless life to expound upon, surely God will give us enough in each day to inspire shelves and shelves of books.
For more info. on Beth Webb Hart’s books, go to www.bethwebbhart.com