The Cabbage Looper


– from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

You write it all, discovering it at the end of the line of words. The line of words is a fiber optic, flexible as wire; it illumines the path just before its fragile tip. You probe with it, delicate as a worm.

Few sights are so absurd as that of an inchworm leading its dimwit life. Inchworms are the caterpillar larvae of several moths or butterflies. The cabbage looper, for example, is an inchworm. I often see an inchworm: it is a skinny bright green thing, pale and thin as a vein, an inch long, and apparently totally unfit for life in this world. It wears out its days in constant panic.

Every inchworm I have seen was stuck in long grasses. The wretched inchworm hangs from the side of a grassblade and throws its head around from side to side, seeming to wail. What! No further? Its back pair of nubby feet clasps the grass stem; its front three pairs of nubs rear back and flail in the air, apparently in search of a footing. What! No further? What? It searches everywhere in the wide world for the rest of the grass, which is right under its nose. By dumb luck it touches the grass. Its front legs hang on; it lifts and buckles its green inch, and places its hind legs just behind its front legs. Its body makes a loop, a bight. All it has to do now is slide its front legs up the grass stem. Instead it gets lost. It throws up its head and front legs, flings its upper body out into the void, and panics again. What? No further? End of world? And so forth, until it actually reaches the grasshead’s tip. By then its wee weight may be bending the grass toward some other grass plant. Its davening, apocalyptic prayers sway the grasshead bump it into something. I have seen it many times. The blind and frantic numbskull makes it one grassblade and onto another one, which it will climb in virtual hysteria for several hours. Every step brings it to the universe’s rim. And now – No further? End of world? Ah, here’s ground. What! No further? Yike!

“Why don’t you just jump?” I tell it, disgusted “Put yourself out of your misery.

Trust (part 2)

When copies [of virtually everything can be copied] are free, you need to sell things that cannot be copied. Well, what can’t be copied?

Trust, for instance. Trust cannot be reproduced in bulk. You can’t purchase trust wholesale. You can’t download trust and store it in a database of warehouse it. You can’t simply duplicate someone else’s trust. Trust must be earned, over time.  It cannot be faked. Or counterfeited (at least for long). Since we prefer to deal with someone we can trust, we will often pay a premium for that privilege. We call that branding. Brand companies can command higher prices for similar products and services from companies without brands because they are trusted for what they promise. So trust is an intangible that has increasing value in a copy-saturated world.


– Kevin Kelly “The Inevitable”


The Internet is the world’s largest copy machine. At its most fundamental level this machine copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the Internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied dozens of times in an ordinary day as the cycle through memory, cache, server, routers, and back. Tech companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. If something can be copied – a song, a movie, a book – and it touches the Internet, it will be copied.


– Kevin Kelly “The Inevitable”

Is It Pertinent?


– from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

It is the beginning of a work that the writer threw away.

A painting covers its tracks. Painters work from the ground up. The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions, and obliterates them. Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right. The discardable chapters are on the left. The latest version of a literary work begins somewhere in the work’s middle, and hardens toward the end. The earlier version remains lumpishly on the left; the work’s beginning greets the reader with the wrong hand. In those early pages and chapters anyone may find bold leaps to nowhere, read the brave beginnings of dropped themes, hear a tone since abandoned, discover blind alleys, track red herrings, and laboriously learn a setting now false.

Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw a way work. If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable, like poetry known by heart; they will perfectly answer their own familiar rhythms. He will retain them. He may retain those pages if they possess some virtues, such as power in themselves, though they lack the cardinal virtue, which is pertinence to, and unity with, the book’s thrust. Sometimes the writer leaves his early chapters in place from gratitude; he cannot contemplate them or read them without feeling again the blessed relief that exalted him when the words first appeared—relief that he was writing anything at all. That beginning served to get him where he was going, after all: surely the reader needs it, too, as groundwork. But no.

Every year the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judgment. Every year the old man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles, bad and good. Every year the old man moved a certain landscape print into the bad stack. At length he turned to the young man: “You submit this same landscape every year, and every year I it on the bad stack. Why do you like it so much?” The young photographer said, “Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.”

A cabdriver sang his songs to me, in New York. Some we sang together. He had turned the meter off; he drove around midtown, singing. One long song he sang twice; it was the only dull one. I said, Vou already sang that one; let’s sing something else. And he said, “You don’t know how long it took me to get that one together.”

How many books do we read from which the writer lacked courage to tie off the umbilical cord? How many gifts do we open from which the writer neglected to remove the price tag? Is it pertinent, is it courteous, for us to learn what it cost the writer personally?

A Means to Engage That Creative Force

It comforts me that I’m not alone. All sorts of people—elderly church-goers, prisoners, parents, teenage moms, recovering addicts, business executives, homeless people—are eager to put words to their spiritual journeys. Just last week during announcements at a Quaker meeting, a woman in her fifties practically leapt into the air: “I’m finally writing my memoir,” she said. “It’s amazing! I want to find other people to write with me and talk about it.” I recognized in her excitement the impulse that drives us language-lovers to work with our life stories. People seek continuity between the inner world and the outer, between their past selves and who they are now, and especially between what they claim to believe and how they live.Writing helps bring about this continuity. And writing becomes a means to engage that creative force within and beyond us, the sacred presence that lends us life.


from “Writing the Sacred Journey” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

Do Not Write to an Audience

On a retreat in Texas once, I heard Frederick Buechner say that he writes to people he loves and who really know him. “You use your real voice with those who you live,” he said, “and you cannot be phony with those who know you well.”

Since the change encounter with Ms. Betts and the weekend with Mr. Buechner, I have never even considered writing to an audience. An audience is somehow faceless and forbidding to me. Whenever I try to write in the direction of an audience, the work comes out flat and forced. The only real with to write, at least for me, is to write to people I know and people I love.


– Robert Benson, from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

Father James Martin: “A Discussion on Spiritual Writing”

The Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest, best-selling author, and editor at large at America, the national Catholic magazine. He is arguably the leading Catholic author.

 This extended interview includes topics such as how he approaches writing, how he selects book themes, how to think of your audience, his writing schedule, social media, view of the publishing landscape, working with editors and agents, his author role models, and more

 62 minutes including Q&A

 To view it click here

The Line of Words is a Hammer

from “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next tear.

You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins.

The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all the angles. Know the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss all and not look back.

The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years’ attention to these things, you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to g. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution. Which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it out. Duck.

Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff the work needs it, or the world Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality: this writing weakens the work. You must demolish the work and start over. You can save some of the sentences, like bricks. It will be a miracle if you can save some of the paragraphs, no matter how excellent in themselves or hard-won. You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now. (Are you a woman, or a mouse?)

The part you must jettison is not only the best written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin. Henry James knew it well, and said it best. In his preface to “The Spoils of Poynton,” he pities the writer, in a comical pair of sentences that rises to a howl: “Which is the work in which he hasn’t surrendered, under dire difficulty, the best thing he meant to have kept? In which indeed, before the dreadful done, doesn’t he ask himself what has become of the thing all for the sweet sake of which it was to proceed to that extremity?”

So it is that a writer writes many books. In each book, he intended several urgent and vivid points, many of which he sacrificed as the book’s form hardened. “The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon,” Thoreau noted mournfully, “or perchance a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a wood-shed with them.” The writer returns to these materials, these passionate subjects, as to unfinished business, for they are his life’s work.

Why Do We Write?

What, then, could I do to ease my ache? If I prayed, God’s pervasive, dissatisfying silence only intensified my longing. Instead I dug into my jeans’ pockets for scrap paper and a ballpoint pen. I did the only thing that transformed my longing into something of substance. I wrote about it.


from “Writing the Sacred Journey” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

That Masterpiece Is In You

by Patricia Kendalls


A cool breeze tosses the sheer white curtain, allowing the sun’s rays to invade the tiny room.  A sliver laptop and the aqua painted chipped mug are the only occupants on table. The fragrant smell of hot cocoa fills the room, and the quietness is almost deafening, as the writer standing at the window watches the squirrel scramble up and down the tree.  Desperation grips the writer’s mind, as the words that he has been searching for continue to play a game of hide-n-seek.  Where is the inspiration to write?  Why does it continue to allude me?  Are the thoughts of many writers, no matter what genre you may write, whether it is a blog or a television script.

There are many times in a writer’s career, that we just don’t have anything to write.  Snippets of ideas, invade our thoughts, but never really fully come to fruition.  Or we’ve started a project but we cannot seem to finish it, which is known as writer’s block.  How do you overcome it?  Where do you find the inspiration?  We all crave it, to participate in the game of wordplay that will produce a masterpiece that inspires generations.  There are some steps that can be used to invoke inspiration as a Christian writer.  First and foremost, it is important to seek guidance from God.  Inspiring generations is God’s work and He is the expert on the subject.  In Proverbs 16:3 it states to commit your works unto the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.   God is the original scribe, so spending time in prayer is the source to inspiration.  Finding a quiet place as you do when you are writing is just as important when you are seeking God’s guidance for inspiration.  Journaling is a useful tool.  Yes, we live in the time that we have all the technology at our fingertips.  However, whether you are using a journal with a pen or pencil or you’re journaling on your tablet.  In your quiet time of seeking inspiration, write down the thoughts and ideas that invade your mind when you are in your prayer time. Then put it away, relax and go find something else to do.  Enjoy your family and friends, inspiration can come from a conversation or even watching people.  Something that catches your attention don’t forget to write down, even if it is just one word. Get outdoors, sometimes a change of scenery or a new environment will invoke inspiration especially if you ask God to show you where to go.  Don’t forget to review your journal, and continue to spend time in prayer.

The focal point to inspiration is God.  Seeking and asking Him to open your mind to what is around you.  Sometimes we miss opportunities because we are thinking one way, and perhaps our inspiration was right before us. Oftentimes, we need to ask God specific questions for an example what story or message would you like your people to hear?  Don’t rush it.  It takes time in seeking God’s inspiration, but that masterpiece is in you, beloved scribe.

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