What Does Living The Writing Life Really Mean?

I just finished reading The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. Although the book is classified as a writing guide, to me it reads more like a memoir about Dillard’s life as a writer. Reading The Writing Life got me thinking a lot about my own life as a writer, both what I love about it and what I feel is lacking.

Dillard makes the point that writers often fixate on their childhoods in their work because that was in only time in their lives they actually lived. Writers spend so much of their time at their desks, creating and recreating worlds on the page, that they miss out on a lot of those experiences that non-writers have. This is, of course, assuming a person writes full-time, which is a rare thing these days and considered to be a luxury.

Because I’m in grad school right now, writing is pretty much my entire life. That’s why it’s hard for me to blog about much else. I spend so much time living in the past, trying to make art out of my life, that sometimes I worry that I’m not actually living it anymore.

In some ways, I feel like I never have been fully present in my life. This memoir I’m writing has been in the back of my mind since I was a kid. I’ve lived very consciously and have been recording my experiences in journals since I was 11 years old. Sometimes I wonder if I made different decisions and took more risks because I wanted to be able to have something to write about later.

I can’t say why writing is so central to my life or why sometimes I feel like I live my life just so I can write about it later. I can’t explain why the memoir I’m writing means so much to me or why it’s been my dream to publish it since I was 11. But I worry that spending so much time living in the past is keeping me from experiencing the moment.

I feel lucky to have this chance to focus on writing for a couple of years. But I don’t want my life outside of writing to stop while I work on this memoir about my past. This is something Dillard talks about struggling with in The Writing Life, and she has no real answers for me. Living the writing life is still living life, and I can’t forget that these experiences I’m having right now matter too. Even if we live to write, we still have to live first and foremost. So I guess that’s what living the writing life means to me. It’s a struggle to balance the past and the present, the page and the world.

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8 replies to “What Does Living The Writing Life Really Mean?”

  1. Julie Farrar says:

    Thanks for reminding me that it’s time to go back and reread Dillard’s book. You’re right about the need and difficulty to balance the page and the world.

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks for the comment, Julie! Glad you got something from my post 🙂

  2. Rachel says:

    it funny because ever since I was eleven, I’d buy wonderful brand new blank books and say “this is my journal and I’m am going to write in it every day.” I’d write in in faithfully for a week and then abandon it. Consider yourself lucky that you have been so disciplined about keeping your journals. Our inner lives are just as important and vital as our outer lives. Don’t sweat it and enjoy your own unique writer’s life.

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thanks, Rachel! I’ve certainly been guilty of doing the same thing with journals (not to mention writing projects). I’m just happy that over the years I have been somewhat good at keeping journals.

  3. Alana I have so much respect for you! I am amazed at how determined you were to do the one thing in the world that made you the happiest. Writing. And you kept this journal throughout the years. Not many people could say that Alana. Don’t worry so much about what you think you might be missing. It’s not as much as you think!

    I am so happy I came to see you. I’m sorry I haven’t dropped by in a long time. Our class was so big. But I’m making an effort to come by more often. And I hope to see you again very soon! Best wishes with your writing and Grad School! 🙂

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thank you, Karen! I really appreciate you stopping by. I’ve been horribly remiss in keeping up with people from the class.

  4. Very interesting reflections, Alana. I haven’t read Dillard’s book, but it’s on my list now. Yes, sometimes writers insulate themselves against ‘living’ in the outside world, but that can be true of nearly every profession – scientists, actors, musicians, painters, doctors, engineers, architects, etc. And as Rachel says, our inner lives are as important as our outer ones.

    1. Alana says:Author

      Thank you, Lynette. Definitely check out the book. I agree, any job can cause us to be isolated from the real world. But everything is an experience.

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