“Write as if you were dying.”

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I found this post about Annie Dillard’s book, The Writing Life, in yesterday’s newsletter. I have the paperback version of the book, but I’ve never read it. I will remedy that now that I’ve read the book excerpts highlighted in the post.

This passage is a powerful reminder of why we create and how our mortality, and that of our audience, should inform our work:

“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?


Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.” -Annie Dillard from The Writing Life


Consider yourself and everyone else, for that matter, to be terminal. It is true. And living and thinking in the light of dying should add perspective and meaning that we would otherwise shut our eyes to.

I often imagine that my audience is just my two young daughters who will read this as adults, maybe after I’m gone. Thinking like that can’t help but shape my words and shame me away from pettiness and silliness.

We should not get lost in fretting over our mortality and miss out on actually living. But summoning the ultimate and embracing our impermanence are crucial to writing anything or making anything that lets us touch immortality.