“Who will teach me to write? A reader wanted to know.
The page, the page, the eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page which will teach you to write.”
- Annie Dillard (from The Writing Life)
I have been teaching writing for many years now, and I was a writing student and workshop participant for even longer. As much as I have gained from writing workshops, both teaching and participating in them, what I’ve learned the most about writing has come from the experience itself. It’s the act of writing, the wrestling with words and sentences, the bringing into creation, that truly teaches you; the mastery of the page.
Dillard writes here about “ruining” the page, setting down “flawed excellences.” In courageously setting words down, working with imperfections and possibilities, one becomes a writer. It’s how the page teaches you. You make your mark and move along, from one word to another, one sentence to the next, one paragraph at a time. You bring into the world what was not there before, something only you could have written. It is said that every story has been told before, but not your story and not your way of telling it.