Why Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is my favorite book

Whenever I’m asked what my favorite book is, I tend to say Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard—winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

It’s a book I originally read my senior year of high school. (I’m pretty sure I was 1 of 2 people in my AP Language class of 30 who actually liked it.)

And, over the years, I have grown to like this book even more. Annie Dillard’s beautiful prose augments a romantic yet realistic view of nature that has become more lucid with each re-read.

In particular, the following paragraph dropped my jaw to the floor earlier this evening, and I still haven’t been able to pick it back up:

“Nature is, above all, profligate. Don’t believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once. This is what the sign of the insects says. No form is too gruesome, no behavior too grotesque. If you’re dealing with organic compounds, then let them combine. If it works, if it quickens, set it clacking in the grass; there’s always room for one more; you ain’t so handsome yourself. This is a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent.”

p. 66

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Writer’s Anxiety

Today, I’ve had three thoughts about my writing: (1) it’s great; (2) it’s okay; and (3) WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING TRYING TO BECOME A WRITER.

These vacillating thoughts have meandered throughout the day. One minute, I’ll be convinced that I’ve written a legendary novel that will one day be remembered fondly like it’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The next, I’ll be convinced that I’ve written something akin to a dumpster fire. Then, when I’m lucky, I’ll be convinced that I’ve written something average that’ll be appreciated by a select group of readers with a preference for realistic fiction.

So what are these vacillating thoughts? Are they just the side effect of being a writer? Of feeling anxious about my writing?

In other words, do I have something called writer’s anxiety?

Writer’s anxiety is a byproduct of the glacial pace of publishing, and I think it’s best described by the following example:

Let’s say you’re reading a book for a nice, relaxing distraction from your writing. So you’re telling yourself, “I’ll just read this book and not think about my own writing. Okay? I’ll just sit here and enjoy someone’s else creation, appreciate the hard work this author put into this book. Okay?” But then, about ten pages into that book, let’s say you find yourself involuntarily skimming over the words on the page—not really reading.

Instead, your mind is elsewhere. Your mind is engaged in a psychological tug of war. A tug of war where you meticulously comb through your own writing with both a hypercritical eye and a friendly eye. One minute, you’re legitimately convincing yourself that you’ve written a legendary novel that will one day be remembered fondly like it’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The next, you’re legitimately convincing yourself that you’ve written something akin to a dumpster fire. Then, whenever you’re lucky enough, you’re legitimately convincing yourself that you’ve written something average that’ll be appreciated by a select group of readers with a preference for realistic fiction.

And that’s when your attention will finally return to the page you’ve been trying to read for five minutes and you’ll realize, I have the disease.

So you’ll say it out loud to yourself, “I have writer’s anxiety,” and you’ll freeze.

Because, suddenly, you will have come to realize the worst possible truth: even if I end up publishing the heir apparent to To Kill a Mockingbird, I could never accept it.

The reason? You know, in your heart of hearts, that no matter what anyone says about your writing, you’ll always have three vacillating thoughts: (1) it’s great; (2) it’s okay; and (3) WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING TRYING TO BECOME A WRITER.

A Weekend of Writing

Ah! It’s finally the freakin’ weekend. Time to take a break; relax; and write.

Last night, I dreamed up this big scene involving a war of rivaling dragons. (Like, I literally had a dream about it.)

The dragons would be fighting for days in this unpredictable war where both sides would win and lose various battles. At the end, though, the dragons would sign this historic peace treaty that’d immediately be recognized as an historic turning point in the Great War. It would be the beginning of an ending.

(Well, before there’d be a new beginning. In the sequel, the dragons would turn their attention to a new foe: incompetent knights.)

This dream was so inspiring that I actually woke up earlier this morning, at five in the morning, to write out the first page of the scene.

Unfortunately, though, in looking over that page, I now realize that it was nothing but late-night gibberish.

But whatever, the point remains the same: I am freakin’ ready to write!

I’m ready to turn my dream into the best fiction that reality has ever seen. A. Freakin’. Masterpiece.

Now, I just have to open up Microsoft Word, crack a few knuckles, and get to—

Wait? Did you hear that???

The TV just told me there’s sale on shoes this weekend. And OMG, did you see that tweet from the President this morning? I couldn’t believe it either!

Okay, I need a break.

I’ll get to my weekend of writing . . . next weekend.

Writing and Working

Okay, first things first: writing is working.

In fact, writing is A LOT of work. For one, being creative—in any capacity—requires a lot of energy and focus. For two, writing can sometimes feel like an exercise in insanity. After writing, revising, and rewriting the same passages over and over again, you can convince yourself that what you’ve produced is the world’s greatest crap, which you wholeheartedly believe should never be seen and/or smelled by any sentient being.

To cope, you step back and take a break. You go to your . . . other work. Something your friends and relatives might call your “actual work.”

That sentiment alone is demeaning and discouraging. But what’s worse, your “actual work” might involve menial tasks (or repetitive tasks, at the very least) that aren’t nearly as stimulating and/or fulfilling as creating and writing.

Yet, every other Friday, you get paid for that work. While, at the same time, you might not be getting paid for your writing.

So why go back home and continue writing and revising and rewriting the same passages, over and over again, until you feel as if you’ve truly gone insane?

It’s that stupid, cliché answer: you’ve found your passion. You’ve found the work that you love.

Of course, it’d be great to get paid to do the work that you love. But that wouldn’t be why you’re doing the work.

You’re doing the work because you love writing.

Whether you grew to love it, have always loved it, or simply love it today (after hating it yesterday), it doesn’t matter. A love to write is a love to write. It’s as simple as that.

So no matter the frustration, the lack of energy, the lack of time, or the reason—if you find yourself writing, then you’re a writer.

You’re a writer, and you’re working. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.