Transforming Truth

This month’s Atlantic includes a captivating article on writing about wilderness, using Annie Dillard and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek as an example of how one leaves out some of what’s true in order to get to deeper truths.

Most interesting are the insights into Dillard’s methods: culling key thoughts from her extensive journals onto note cards, then trying to arrange them in chapter order, a method that didn’t serve the final product well but no doubt helped to fix her mind on the messages she wanted to convey, the relationships between the “traces of mind” that helped her bring the book to life. Her self-doubt, her months of floundering to define what sort of book she wanted to write–or perhaps most profoundly, what sort of book was possible from the observations in her notes–are all inspiration for those of us who struggle every day to get down something that inspires us to move forward, even when we can’t see the ending. And who want to write something amazing while staring at a “tar and gravel roof” as Dillard did.

What worthwhile things to think about. I’ve thought of several new book projects while reading this.

Why can I not write about people in the city with the same depth and verve with which Dillard wrote of that suburban creek? There is plenty of wildness there. And, of course, Whitman, that inspired, irreplaceable lunatic of a man, wrote with passion about the people he met on his walks through the city and found whole universes in them. It’s not the place of inspiration but the depth and clarity of thought about the world that allows us to tell stories worth knowing.

Perhaps tomorrow my next novel about a lovable bookseller, a churlish florist, and the stroke survivor who brings them together will walk on the wild side.


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