I mostly agree with the metaphors Dillard used. A miner’s pick and a woodcarver’s gouge make the most sense to me because they’re tools for shaping something. They’re shaping the words, making the path for the reader to follow. Fiber optic makes sense as a path, but not as a tool to form a path of writing. The words are and, at the same time, are not the tool that you use when you’re writing. It’s like a Swiss Army knife, but not as easy to use correctly. However, Dillard speaks as though the writer doesn’t control what they’re writing at all. This is where I disagree with her.
I don’t see writing as a meditative trance where you sit at the computer or desk and words just flow out of you and you can’t control what they say or how they form a narrative or really anything. The words don’t shape themselves. The words aren’t the one in complete control of everything that happens when you write. That’s not to say that the writer is in complete control of what happens on the page. I see words as something you shape, like clay. Like clay, they may not always turn out exactly as you pictured them, but the general shape is usually there. It’s not a perfect little pot, maybe it’s a little lopsided or one handle is bigger than the other, but it still holds water. You may not sit down have a perfect layout of what you want to write. Maybe you just have a general feeling and you shape the words as you go along. It’s not entirely the words just springing into existence, but it’s also not the writer wrangling words into behavior like they’re troublesome farm animals. They have to work together and make something beautiful.
Writing is like playing the violin or writing music. You know the notes and what they’re supposed to sound like. String them together in an order that makes sense and they sound beautiful. Even what is the ‘wrong’ order to someone else could be a beautiful melody to another. The melody depends on the person composing it, but the audience can interpret it in their own way somewhat. The person writing it could turn a joyful melody melancholy and vice versa with tone and mood. The notes or words can be changed as you go along to fit the mood, riffing off of something someone else wrote a long time ago. They echo the meaning, but they’re different and only barely linked by the merest hint of a theme. They can even paint a picture in someone’s mind, which might not be exactly the picture that the creator intended.