Know Your Own Bone

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by Debbie Vance

Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life offers many and myriad writing tips and is a faithful companion to many a working writer. I’d like to take one idea from Dillard and look inside it. Or rather, encourage you all to look inside it. Namely this: we each have something that only we love. A thing that sparks an unusual passion in us, so much so that we see in it and through it and around it and always come back to it. Dillard suggests that it is this unique something that we must write about–it is the thing which only we can write about fully because only we truly love it. I love the rolling hills of Missouri, soaked in thick, humid air and not-quite-southern accents that pronounce “wash,” “warsh.” What is it that you, and only you, love? Write about it.

fern-coil“People love pretty much the same things best. A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all. Strange seizures beset us. Frank Conroy loves his yo-yo tricks, Emily Dickinson her slant of light; Richard Selzer loves the glistening peritoneum, Faulkner the muddy bottom of a little girl’s drawers visible when she’s up a pear tree. ‘Each student of the ferns,’ I read, ‘will have his own list of plants that for some reason or another stir his emotions.’

Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment. ‘The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artists is the strict discipline of forcing ones else to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.’ Anne Truitt, the sculptor, said this. Thoreau said it another way: know your own bone. ‘Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life…Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.'” –Annie Dillard

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