Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Annie Dillard

Just Bleed On The Page . . .

That title up there is a very writerly way to describe how to write. Variations on it have been attributed to assorted writers and you can track its citations Here

So, what does it mean, non-literally, to bleed on the page?

Pour out your heart?

Give your earnest best?

Write gruesome crime novels?

In the past post, Productivity vs Satisfaction ~ or ~ Success vs Peace of Mind, I referred readers to some of Annie Dillard‘s writerly wisdom—gonna do it again today.

You may have noticed I’ve used material from Maria Popova’s blog here a number of times.

Today, I’ll direct you to her post, Annie Dillard on Writing, where Maria says: “What does it really mean to write? Why do writers labor at it, and why are readers so mesmerized by it?”

Ms. Popova shares some quotes from Dillard’s, The Writing Life, and I’ll bring a few of them here to encourage you to go read the full article.

Let’s see if Annie talks about bleeding on the page:

“When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year. You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins. The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all the angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.”

I especially like the “surgeon’s probe”

“When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it; then the trouble is either of two things. Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split it up the middle — or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If you pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse, and you do not know about it yet, quite.”

Being stuck while writing may bring on a few drops of blood

“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”

This is beyond mere bleeding, more like pouring your soul on the page

One last quote, for those overly involved with genre fiction:

“Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love?”

If you’re a writer, what does bleeding on the page mean to you?

If you’re a reader, do you want your writer’s blood on your page………?

Care to share in the Comments?
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Productivity vs Satisfaction ~ or ~ Success vs Peace of Mind

There are so many folks (perhaps more than ever) attempting to fulfill the old maxim, Everyone Has A Novel In Them.

Self-Publishing has revolutionized more lives than half a dozen more prosaic social advances

But is the revolutionized life worth living?

Isn’t it true that a writer must be published to be a Real Writer or “Author”?

Isn’t it true that a self-published writer must work to be noticed on as many social media venues as possible?

If you clicked-through those last two links and read some of the posts, you know those two questions were in the Heavy Ironic form—though the way I worded them was probably a tip-off for some folks

So, am I saying that a writer should mostly write and not be overly concerned with Getting Published?

And, am I also saying that a writer with a book should not be overly concerned with Social Media?


If the writer is causing themselves psychological damage by over-attention to being published and/or playing with social media, then, yes, I’m saying they should probably write more before attempting publishing and write even more before playing the social media game

Being Productive so you can attain Success too often leads Satisfaction very far from Peace of Mind.

There’s a special video on the past post, Balancing The Writer’s Life, that would be good therapy if you happen to be a writer who’s all stressed out over publishing and the chaos of social media

And, perhaps, I should add, to make my point have some clarity, that there are many writers who Should get published and Should use social media

I suppose I could grossly overgeneralize my point by saying, It’s not what you do but how you do it.

I’ll go a bit further by sharing an idea from Maria Popova’s blog when she quotes Annie Dillard from the book The Writing Life:

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?”

Care to help clarify what I’ve been saying with Your ideas in a Comment? :-)
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A Certain Woman from Kansas…

kansas writer Simone Benedict is a friend of mine. She’s a writer who blogs and who I want to see published. She happens to live in Kansas.

Her wit is only exceeded by the wildness and whimsey of the tales she tells. Her commitment to writing is commendable.

Once, in the comments, I named her my Roving Reporter–out on the fringes of life’s possibilities; bringing words of wonder to my readers.

Here’s her first report:


When Alexander asked me to write a guest post, a few of his words grabbed me. Roving, roaming, free and vagabond. Movement was my first thought.

My writing significantly improved when I heard:

Your writing must move.

I’d already heard show, don’t tell and use active voice, not passive voice and the rest of those rules that are dictated to us. I needed to know the big picture and it was downright divine when I did. Writing must move.

How can we do that? At first it seems contradictory. Words on a page are stationary. The act of writing itself is mostly a stationary activity, as is the act of reading. So why is movement so important in writing? I don’t have any pat answers. I do know it’s a truth and good writing moves.

Depicting movement in writing is a part of the art, I’ve determined. There are some basics every writer can use to achieve it. Yet, it’s a part of each writer’s style. Movement involves speed and rhythm. I work on that while I write. I listen for the movement in others’ writing. As I read, do I hear the “boom, boom” of a marching band or the gentle rocking of a lullaby?

Alexander has posted about the subject of imagery in writing. This too is a part of movement. Our words create visual images for the reader. When I read some writing, I see a series of snapshots. With other writing, I see a film.

If our writing moves as we’re writing, I believe that means we’re on the correct path. This quote by Annie Dillard vividly reveals movement while writing:  “With your two bare hands, you hold and fight a sentence’s head while its tail tries to knock you over.”


OK, now you get to ask Simone some really hard questions in the comments :-)
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