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The Writing Life PDF, ePub eBook


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Title: The Writing Life
Author: Annie Dillard
Publisher: Published 1998 by Harper Perennial (HarperCollins) (first published 1989)
ISBN: 9780060919887
Status : FREE Rating :
4.6 out of 5

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Annie Dillard has written eleven books, including the memoir of her parents, An American Childhood; the Northwest pioneer epic The Living; and the nonfiction narrative Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. A gregarious recluse, she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

30 review for The Writing Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dolors

    This is a brief yet intense essay on the art, or as Dillard would say, the burden of writing that will delight readers and aspiring writers alike. Writing is a way of life, and Dillard’s relationship with words is, to say the least, controversial. Her lucid ponderings on the obsessive nature of those who devote their lives to squeeze the world out into sentences, limited by expression and linguistic patterns, are as petrifying as they are eye-opening. Far from the romantic idea of a genius struck This is a brief yet intense essay on the art, or as Dillard would say, the burden of writing that will delight readers and aspiring writers alike. Writing is a way of life, and Dillard’s relationship with words is, to say the least, controversial. Her lucid ponderings on the obsessive nature of those who devote their lives to squeeze the world out into sentences, limited by expression and linguistic patterns, are as petrifying as they are eye-opening. Far from the romantic idea of a genius struck by sudden inspiration, incessantly scribbling away in otherworldly vision and transforming it into polished and clearly defined paragraphs, Dillard describes the endless struggle the writer has to undergo to put down a handful of fragmented sentences per day. The mundane is the worst enemy: constant battles against distraction, physical needs, the vertigo of a blank page or the looming weight of others’ expectations; and more philosophical dilemmas on the impossibility to capture the untainted beauty of the world of ideas into the prison of form and restrictive words, set the orbit to Dillard’s limitless universe. And yet. And yet. Dillard uses the pen as a magician would use his wand and puts the reader under the irresistible spell of her spiritual writing. Her personal anecdotes and exquisite meditations on the implications of building one’s life around literature reminded me of great masters such as Thoreau, Julian Barnes and Rebecca Solnit, who blend autobiography with prose poetry of the finest quality. Beauty and eloquence need not be at odds; if you think they are, please pick this short essay and be proven wrong by Dillard’s magic. Fireworks for the blind. “I lived on the beach with one foot in fatal salt water and one foot on a billion of grains of sand. The brink of the infinite there was too like writing’s solitude. Each sentence hung over an abyssal ocean or sky which held all possibilities, as well as the possibility of nothing.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    My full review can be found on my blog. In this short collection of essays on craft, Dillard meditates on what it means to become a writer as well as why someone might want to write in the first place: her seven essays, read in sequence, frame the writing life as a quasi-religious vocation that demands both hard work and curiosity, daring and endurance, from those drawn to it. Dillard’s language is clear, her transitions smooth, her pacing swift. Her prose flows calmly from one point to the next, My full review can be found on my blog. In this short collection of essays on craft, Dillard meditates on what it means to become a writer as well as why someone might want to write in the first place: her seven essays, read in sequence, frame the writing life as a quasi-religious vocation that demands both hard work and curiosity, daring and endurance, from those drawn to it. Dillard’s language is clear, her transitions smooth, her pacing swift. Her prose flows calmly from one point to the next, and her attention to detail makes the essays stimulating to read. Throughout the collection, Dillard revives the Romantic concept of the writer as a solitary figure removed from the spheres of society and commerce, and she attributes to writing a kind of spiritual fervor that ties the act to the sublime, which the essayist often codifies here as “the infinite.” Far from associating good writing with spontaneity, though, Dillard also stresses how much labor is involved in completing even a single work of writing, and she insists that writers not be interested in fame. All this makes for a curious argument that mystifies the writing life, elevating it above other kinds of work, without idolizing the writer as celebrity.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Malbadeen

    I do not, nor do I aspire to live "The Writing Life" but I have recently found myself in a writing class by virtue of necessity for my degree and I have been horrified by the enormity of the task of writing something/anything without feeling like a complete fool! I came across this book at a used store and picked it up as my brother has been trying to get me to read Dillard for awhile. I immediately loved it for her brutal words of reality. After sitting in the class were I have to listen to a ci I do not, nor do I aspire to live "The Writing Life" but I have recently found myself in a writing class by virtue of necessity for my degree and I have been horrified by the enormity of the task of writing something/anything without feeling like a complete fool! I came across this book at a used store and picked it up as my brother has been trying to get me to read Dillard for awhile. I immediately loved it for her brutal words of reality. After sitting in the class were I have to listen to a circle of people nod their heads in affirmation at the absolutely unoriginal crap that is being churned out week after week and wondering if I'm the only one that wants to scream "Are you serious?!, did you just end your story with the line 'at least I'm not alone'" or wondering if it should be legal to let someone insert the phrase "I'd have to draw you a picture" at any point, in any story, under any circumstances, and how about using the phrase "crazy Jim", wouldn't it be kinder in the end to tell this student that saying"Crazy Jim" makes him sound like "lame-o writer"? (does anybody but me notice that I'm avoiding sharing any of the horrendous drivel that I've put to paper? hee-hee. It's my review people, I'll do whatever I damn well please) And then there is the soul crushing reality that there EVERYTHING has already been said! what's this? oh another story about breaking up? how refreshing. what's that you say? when you were in nature you felt alive? hmmm, there's a fresh perspective. and shh, shh, I want to hear this: what truth, what inspiration. to think, children have innocence that adults have lost - I hadn't considered that. So I sit there in that class and I try to appreciate that my reaction to all of this writing I'm hearing is a harsh and unwarranted, critique on a group of people that are sincerely trying to do something they enjoy or feel compelled to do for whatever reason. I smile, I affirm, I point out the things I liked (ya, there are some things I like) and I read my stories as fast as humanly possibly and try to avoid follow-up conversation at all costs. but then I go home and I pick up this little book (111 pages) and I read it, first quietly then I notice I'm reading it aloud, then I'm laughing and shouting "yes"! I think I fell in love with the book on page 11 when she talks about the meaningless task of writing compared to shoe sales. A thought she ends with, "If you believed Paradise Lost to be excellent, would you buy it? why not shoot yourself, actually, rather than finish one more excellent manuscript on which to gag the world?" YES! not to dork out or anything, but seriously - couldn't you pretty much say that about anything you do in life? and the wondering why we do as we do it - that's good but the doing it is better. So I guess the syrupy, sweet moral of my story is that this book helped me to appreciate my classmates, the writing process, and the amusing trivialities that make our lives what they are.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    Tunnel through. Stretch the line to the limits of the possible. It will be hard, and it will be a torment, but that is the writing life. It’s easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them. —Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot The writing life is tough and you will often hate it, but choose it if no other life will make sense. A day spent reading/writing, cooped up in this silent struggle, while life passes you by might not be considered by many as Tunnel through. Stretch the line to the limits of the possible. It will be hard, and it will be a torment, but that is the writing life. It’s easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them. —Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot The writing life is tough and you will often hate it, but choose it if no other life will make sense. A day spent reading/writing, cooped up in this silent struggle, while life passes you by might not be considered by many as a good day, but a life spent reading and writing - that will be a good life.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Reads & Reviews

    Annie Dillard wrote a brutally honest description of her relationship and struggles with the process of writing. Instead of the usual advice about showing, not telling, etc that I see etched inside my eyelids, as I read The Writing Life, I was compelled to copy its poetic quotes on note cards that I'll use as bookmarks. I expect gems from this work will inspire and educate me as I stumble across them in days to come—quotes, such as the content of a note from Michelangelo to his apprentice, "Draw Annie Dillard wrote a brutally honest description of her relationship and struggles with the process of writing. Instead of the usual advice about showing, not telling, etc that I see etched inside my eyelids, as I read The Writing Life, I was compelled to copy its poetic quotes on note cards that I'll use as bookmarks. I expect gems from this work will inspire and educate me as I stumble across them in days to come—quotes, such as the content of a note from Michelangelo to his apprentice, "Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time." And, “Throw out the beginning; the book begins in what you thought was the middle. It can take years and heartbreak to see that...” Annie Dillard defines an important point as follows: "The writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it? Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles... He writes it in spite of that. He finds ways to minimize the difficulty; he strengthens other virtues; he cantilevers the whole narrative out into thin air, and it holds. And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he. For there is nothing in the material for this book that suggests to anyone but him alone its possibilities for meaning and feeling.” In an effort to "minimize the difficulty" motivates me to sit in writing seminars and read how-to writing books. Other notes: - The tendency and pressure upon writers these days is to churn out several books per year. Dillard writes the putting a book together is difficult and complex and should engage all the writer's intelligence. Freedom as a writer is not “freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip.” While I'd like to complete one book per year, Dillard believes that writing a book, full time, takes between two and ten years. - I tend to rewrite over and over as I write. Dillard advises the opposite: “The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen." - And finally, these words of warning: "The writer is careful of what he read, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ammara Abid

    This is my first book by Annie Dillard and it didn't disappoint me. Brilliant book, beautiful excerpts with many examples corelating with how to write why to write what urge you to write, emphasizing the importance of words. The whole book was written in monotonous tone which is perfectly fine with the short book like this but the last chapter didn't hit me infact I get bored while reading. Otherwise the book is epic. WHEN YOU WRITE, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pi This is my first book by Annie Dillard and it didn't disappoint me. Brilliant book, beautiful excerpts with many examples corelating with how to write why to write what urge you to write, emphasizing the importance of words. The whole book was written in monotonous tone which is perfectly fine with the short book like this but the last chapter didn't hit me infact I get bored while reading. Otherwise the book is epic. WHEN YOU WRITE, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a 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 year. Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know. The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elise

    Every paragraph is stunning, and I especially like the previous owner's occasional marginalia in my hardback copy. On page 14, Dillard writes: "Flaubert wrote steadily, with only the usual, appalling, strains. For twenty-five years he finished a big book every five to seven years. My guess is that full-time writers average a book every five years; seventy-three usable pages a year, or a usable fifth of a page a day. The years that biographers and other nonfiction writers spend amassing and master Every paragraph is stunning, and I especially like the previous owner's occasional marginalia in my hardback copy. On page 14, Dillard writes: "Flaubert wrote steadily, with only the usual, appalling, strains. For twenty-five years he finished a big book every five to seven years. My guess is that full-time writers average a book every five years; seventy-three usable pages a year, or a usable fifth of a page a day. The years that biographers and other nonfiction writers spend amassing and mastering materials are well matched by the years novelists and short-story writers spend fabricating solid worlds that answer to immaterial truths. On plenty of days the writer can write three or four pages, and on plenty of other days he concludes he must throw them away." To which the previous owner exclaims, incredulous, "? Absurd—writers write much more," and then, a few lines down, reasons, "Maybe without computer?"

  8. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    Some books don't have an ending. What they have to say will linger on and surround you like a mental landscape. Annie Dillard's impassioned plea for the writing life is as hypnotic as it is tangible. She will take you to writing desks in remote cabins and isolated studies (keep the world out, as much as you can) to evoke the various stages of writing (elation, excitement, despair, immobility, doubt). Time will slow down and expand in electrified sentences that you will want to highlight and writ Some books don't have an ending. What they have to say will linger on and surround you like a mental landscape. Annie Dillard's impassioned plea for the writing life is as hypnotic as it is tangible. She will take you to writing desks in remote cabins and isolated studies (keep the world out, as much as you can) to evoke the various stages of writing (elation, excitement, despair, immobility, doubt). Time will slow down and expand in electrified sentences that you will want to highlight and write down, word for word, in your own writing notebooks. Her uses of metaphor will thrill you to bits and stretch your understanding of the craft in ways that you had never thought about before. She will become a little ghost sitting on your shoulder as you toil away on the page, so haunting are her lines. Some books are written to be reread. Line by line, paragraph by paragraph, Annie Dillard distills the elements that make writing as alive, elemental and necessary as it can be. A literary call to arms.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Jackson

    I have a love/hate thing with this book. On the one hand, it's a brilliant poetic evocation of the creative process. On the other, the process is so romanticized and the examples exalt such a rarified form of extreme self-sacrifice that I half-suspect Dillard is trying to discourage and/or sabotage future generations. It's a five star meal with a dash of arsenic. Approach with caution.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    This book is short - just over one hundred pages in hardcover - and easy to read. If you read my five status updates, you will see quotes from the book. The book is full of quotable quotes that are often entertaining and enlightening. I think Annie Dillard is a great writer. My one fault with The Writing Life is that it is despairingly certain that being a good writer is neigh unto impossible. This seems to me to be simply untrue. Now you may not write an award winning novel but if you read revi This book is short - just over one hundred pages in hardcover - and easy to read. If you read my five status updates, you will see quotes from the book. The book is full of quotable quotes that are often entertaining and enlightening. I think Annie Dillard is a great writer. My one fault with The Writing Life is that it is despairingly certain that being a good writer is neigh unto impossible. This seems to me to be simply untrue. Now you may not write an award winning novel but if you read reviews on Goodreads, you know that there are some pretty good writers here. You may not be able to make a living with your words but you sure can enjoy creating sentences and paragraphs. Maybe this is simply a memior by Annie telling what being a writer is like for her. It is not a how to book, that is for sure. Because the message is "Write your butt off and prepare to fail!" I would just say, "Don't quit your day job but if you enjoy writing remember that there are places like Goodreads and blog sites where you can be published rather than punished." Have a good time writing and have a good time reading this book while you are at it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    As a writer with only one published novel I am always looking to learn more about the writing life, looking to hone my skills, to improve. I had hoped to glean some rare look into how to write skilfully from Dillard's writing. This 111 page book took me three days to read (normally I would have finished in 30 minutes) however I wanted to absorb each gem of knowledge, and so kept reading intently, taking breaks hoping it would get better the next time I picked it up. Most writers seem to spend an As a writer with only one published novel I am always looking to learn more about the writing life, looking to hone my skills, to improve. I had hoped to glean some rare look into how to write skilfully from Dillard's writing. This 111 page book took me three days to read (normally I would have finished in 30 minutes) however I wanted to absorb each gem of knowledge, and so kept reading intently, taking breaks hoping it would get better the next time I picked it up. Most writers seem to spend an inordinate amount of time doing anything to avoid writing Dillard seemed to spend most of her time avoiding writing about writing, and if that was not annoying enough _ I wanted the good stuff - the time she did spend on the writing life was so depressing that if I was reading this book in hopes of becoming a writer I'd have probably gone a slit my wrists. What a complete waste of time this book was.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Reisz

    “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.” ― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life Of all the writing books I've read, this one speaks to me the most.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I think if I had read this book out of curiosity, and not in the middle of a class where I am writing and having to revise that writing (the hardest part for me), I may not have rated it so highly. But every word Annie Dillard includes in here is important. Some stories are not immediately apparent. Why am I reading about chopping wood, skipping fireworks, and alligators? She always brings it back around to the discipline of writing, a discipline that I don't really have... yet (?). I think anyo I think if I had read this book out of curiosity, and not in the middle of a class where I am writing and having to revise that writing (the hardest part for me), I may not have rated it so highly. But every word Annie Dillard includes in here is important. Some stories are not immediately apparent. Why am I reading about chopping wood, skipping fireworks, and alligators? She always brings it back around to the discipline of writing, a discipline that I don't really have... yet (?). I think anyone who writes or dreams of writing should read this book. "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?)" "On plenty of days the writer can write three or four pages, and on plenty of days he concludes he must throw them away." "Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading - that is a good life." "I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend... I hold its hand and hope it will get better." "A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight... You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it." "You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment." "Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art. Do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength." Yes ma'am. I will try.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    Short, quick 70-pager (at least in the version I read) that really reads like an extension of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek with its tone and ample use of quotes and anecdotes. The only difference, really, is that this work focuses more (and at times less) on writing. A few things of interest: Dillard has little use for using brand names in your writing, so I guess she's of the belief that it spoils your chances for classic status when you embed stuff that is sure to become dated. She also espouses a v Short, quick 70-pager (at least in the version I read) that really reads like an extension of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek with its tone and ample use of quotes and anecdotes. The only difference, really, is that this work focuses more (and at times less) on writing. A few things of interest: Dillard has little use for using brand names in your writing, so I guess she's of the belief that it spoils your chances for classic status when you embed stuff that is sure to become dated. She also espouses a variation of the "you are what you eat" philosophy by saying your writing is what you read (don't I wish!). If you want to be a novelist, you read novels for the sheer joy of it. If you want to be a poet, you read poems because you can't help yourself. Otherwise, you are (my words) a poser, and for some reason, the writer pose is one a certain breed of person can't help but strike. I'll leave you with some Dillard-style advice: Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. This 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? Write about winter in the summer. Describe Norway as Ibsen did, from a desk in Italy; describe Dublin as James Joyce did, from a desk in Paris. Willa Cather wrote her prairie novels in New York City; Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn in Hartford, Connecticut. Recently, scholars learned that Walt Whitman rarely left his room. Which is all well and good except Mark Twain actually wrote HF in Elmira, NY, at his wife Livy's parents' place. They were filthy rich (coal = source of the filth) and had an outdoor cabin at the edge of a field overlooking woods where Clemens escaped to write every day. Speaking of, Dillard also insists you avoid a view. Situate your desk to look at walls or, if a window is nearby, may it look over ugly roof lines. The view has to be mental, in other words, so have at it. Every day. And good luck. The life of a (true) artist is neither simple nor swift. Amen.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ju$tin

    annie dillard? more like annie dullard. two big thumbs down.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Appreciated this little treasure every bit as much the second time around. Dillard is a miner of meaningful truths from the ordinary world—her prose is fierce, invigorating, and unrelentingly beautiful. _________ Original review (2013) A short, wonderful, straight-to-the-point book. Read it for sympathy in your struggles as a writer: I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hol Appreciated this little treasure every bit as much the second time around. Dillard is a miner of meaningful truths from the ordinary world—her prose is fierce, invigorating, and unrelentingly beautiful. _________ Original review (2013) A short, wonderful, straight-to-the-point book. Read it for sympathy in your struggles as a writer: I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better. Read it for vindication: Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks; he claimed he knocked it off in his spare time from a twelve-hour-a-day job performing manual labor. There are other examples from other continents and centuries, just as albinos, assassins, saints, big people, and little people show up from time to time in large populations. Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty can write a serious book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in barrels, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. Read it for Dillard’s uncommon advice on the craft: The reason to perfect a piece of prose as it progresses—to secure each sentence before building on it—is that original writing fashions a form. It unrolls out into nothingness. It grows cell to cell, bole to bough to twig to leaf; any careful word may suggest a route, may begin a strand of metaphor or event out of which much, or all, will develop. Perfecting the work inch by inch, writing from the first word toward the last, displays the courage and fear this method induces. The strain … enlivens the work and impels it toward its truest end. A pile of decent work behind him, no matter how small, fuels the writer’s hope, too; his pride emboldens and impels him. Though she presents reasons for the opposite approach as well—writing the book straight through, beginning to end, before returning to perfect the bits and pieces (in other words, cranking out the first draft in a mad rush, as Stephen King and many other masters of the craft advise)—it’s worth noting that Dillard herself seems to prefer the first method: laying the story one brick at a time. Testing the wall, checking that everything is plumb, before moving on. She tells of whole days spent when only a paragraph is produced; when she consumes coffee after coffee, cigarette after cigarette, and searches her cabin for anything to do but write. She compares crafting a sentence to wrestling an alligator. You are wrong if you think that you can in any way take the vision and tame it to the page. The page is jealous and tyrannical; the page is made of time and matter; the page always wins. The vision is not so much destroyed, exactly, as it is, by the time you have finished, forgotten. It has been replaced by this changeling, this bastard, this opaque, lightless, chunky ruinous work. Read it for Dillard’s strong voice and exhilarating sentences: The line of words is heading out past Jupiter this morning. Traveling 150 kilometers a second, it makes no sound. The big yellow planet and its white moons spin. The line of words speeds past Jupiter and its cumbrous, dizzying orbit; it looks neither to the right nor to the left. It will be leaving the solar system soon, single-minded, rapt, rushing heaven like a soul. The time it takes to breeze through this little book is well spent indeed.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard Gilbert

    Sometime after the excitement of beginning her book a serious writer will discover her work’s own “intrinsic impossibility,” says Annie Dillard in The Writing Life. Eventually she’ll probably throw out the main point, her grand vision, and settle for the more modest discovery she made in writing. If a writer had any sense, she’d devote herself to a career selling catheters. The Writing Life is about persistent inquiry and love. A sort of commiseration, it contains rules of thumb: throw out the be Sometime after the excitement of beginning her book a serious writer will discover her work’s own “intrinsic impossibility,” says Annie Dillard in The Writing Life. Eventually she’ll probably throw out the main point, her grand vision, and settle for the more modest discovery she made in writing. If a writer had any sense, she’d devote herself to a career selling catheters. The Writing Life is about persistent inquiry and love. A sort of commiseration, it contains rules of thumb: throw out the beginning; the book begins in what you thought was the middle. It can take years and heartbreak to see that—another given. “Once, for example, I learned from a conversation with a neighbor that I had been living in a fool’s paragraph,” Dillard says. Neighborly advice is unintentional, however. Anyone who’s written a creative book is full of woe and wonder, but Dillard notes in her dry way that civilians really don’t care. (How much do you crave tales of your brother-in-law’s plumbing supply business?) However, as a veteran, she offers this: “It makes more sense to write one big book—a novel or nonfiction narrative—than to write many stories or essays. Into a long, ambitious project you can fit or pour all you possess and learn. A project that takes five years will accumulate those years’ inventions and richnesses.” There’s a lot of reading: a writer must study literature, must know what’s been done so she can try to exceed it. Dillard adds this spooky caution: “He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.” She’s on record elsewhere as advising writers to read history. She counts a life spent reading as a good one, though her fascination with bugs and rocks and stars draws her outside. She’s the plucky one with binoculars around her neck. When writing her books, she stared at the wall: “Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.” Years after The Writing Life she worked on a novel set on Cape Cod. She piled up 1,200 pages. It took ten years. Then she saw the book’s heart, a love story, couldn’t bear the weight of geologic history and began cutting. The Maytrees, a shimmering work of art published in 2007, is 216 pages. [Since reviewed here.) She said it almost killed her and announced her retirement after twelve books. Her book on writing is rare because it isn’t aimed at complete beginners—of course, she calls it a memoir. Sometime during the two to ten years it takes someone to write a decent book (another precept) the writer should read The Writing Life. The book (Dillard’s, that is) won’t make much sense otherwise. It isn’t much of a how-to guide unless someone has sweated through a manuscript, and then it’s the best.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Libbie Hawker (L.M. Ironside)

    This might be the only book about writing anybody needs. It's not a book that tells you how to write. But I've never found those books to be useful anyway. This is a book about what it is like to be a writer. Not "be a writer" as in "being able to tell strangers that you're a writer and then enjoying the instinctive looks of awe on their faces," nor "be a writer" as in "manage a career writing books." It is a book about what it's like to obsess over a single sentence for days or weeks, what it's This might be the only book about writing anybody needs. It's not a book that tells you how to write. But I've never found those books to be useful anyway. This is a book about what it is like to be a writer. Not "be a writer" as in "being able to tell strangers that you're a writer and then enjoying the instinctive looks of awe on their faces," nor "be a writer" as in "manage a career writing books." It is a book about what it's like to obsess over a single sentence for days or weeks, what it's like to feel the frailty of art and the responsibility for creating it, what it's like to know that what you do ultimately matters very little, yet you feel compelled to do it anyway. It is told, as per Dillard usual, in a series of stunningly, quietly beautiful sketches, small anecdotes that when taken as a whole impart both wise advice and understanding to the fellow obsesser over a single sentence; yet never is the point of the narrative stated plainly, and that makes it all the more accessible and pretty and sincere. This is a book that speaks directly to those who live "with one foot in fatal salt water and one foot on a billion grains of sand." Beautiful and personal and absolutely recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Eh, it was ok. Dillard describes the difficulties of writing, the long wrestling match that goes into a writer fighting with his or her subject and the way that original subjects are sometimes lost along the way in the process of writing. I could feel the amount of struggle that goes into her writing, almost in every line, and personally I feel like it saps some of the power from her work when you can almost feel that each every sentence has been crafted over and pounded into 'perfection'. There Eh, it was ok. Dillard describes the difficulties of writing, the long wrestling match that goes into a writer fighting with his or her subject and the way that original subjects are sometimes lost along the way in the process of writing. I could feel the amount of struggle that goes into her writing, almost in every line, and personally I feel like it saps some of the power from her work when you can almost feel that each every sentence has been crafted over and pounded into 'perfection'. There are a few inspiring nuggets for would be writers, but for every piece of inspiration there are at least five moments where a would be writer would ask, why would I want to do this to myself?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I had to read this for a course and my professor said that some people will love Annie Dillard, while others will hate her. I am of the latter camp. I'm not sure what I was expecting from reading this book. Maybe some kind of interesting wisdom about writing? What I got, though, was a highly pretentious piece of work that read like a self-help book. It spoke about a bunch of things but the sum of the message was basically empty. Dillard seems to assume that all writers can live her lifestyle of se I had to read this for a course and my professor said that some people will love Annie Dillard, while others will hate her. I am of the latter camp. I'm not sure what I was expecting from reading this book. Maybe some kind of interesting wisdom about writing? What I got, though, was a highly pretentious piece of work that read like a self-help book. It spoke about a bunch of things but the sum of the message was basically empty. Dillard seems to assume that all writers can live her lifestyle of seclusion while writing while subsisting on a diet of coffee and cigarettes and god knows what else. Further, she adds to this already sleep-inducing series of metaphors about writing with her own travels and some people she's met. She goes on one particularly extensive scene where she talks to a friend of hers who paints. When she asks him how he's doing with his work, he tells a long story that ultimately leads up to one simple thought, making me question why this story was even needed in a book about writing. I didn't give this book one star only because, scattered among the detritus (ie. most of the book) were a few interesting bits of wisdom, such as using good ideas in your writing as soon as they strike you rather than saving them for later.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mimi Marten

    If you're looking for a book about insights and struggles of a writing life, this is NOT it. I got this book as a present from my partner. He knows I love books about writing craft, always looking for ways to hone and improve my skills. I read this book on a flight. It's only 111 pages long and I was certain I will still be able to watch a movie on my 5 hour flight. I had to put it down several times and it took another 6 hour flight to finish it. It was like a love and hate relationship, hoping i If you're looking for a book about insights and struggles of a writing life, this is NOT it. I got this book as a present from my partner. He knows I love books about writing craft, always looking for ways to hone and improve my skills. I read this book on a flight. It's only 111 pages long and I was certain I will still be able to watch a movie on my 5 hour flight. I had to put it down several times and it took another 6 hour flight to finish it. It was like a love and hate relationship, hoping it will get better. It didn't. I'm always respectful and supportive of other authors. With all do respect to Annie Dillard, I often wondered if she was high? I wouldn't recommend this for aspiring writers. For me, this book was a collection of journal entries, full of contradictions, procrastinating and her writing life borderline depressing. It's autobiographical with poetic tone and very self-absorbed. The part that I liked was the metaphorical comparisons, some bits of humor and some memorable quotes. I would sum it up with the great master Ernest Hemingway "Writing at it's best..., is a lonely life." Anyone looking for little more optimistic read about writing life check out Anne Lamott 'Bird by bird"

  22. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    This is the first book I've read by Dillard, but it won't be the last. Her writing is forceful, muscular and insightful, and I'd love to see how that translates into her fiction. The only reason I'm giving this 4 stars instead of 5 is because I got bogged down in the last chapter about her experiences flying with the stunt pilot, which probably says much more about me than it does her. Anyone interested in knowing how a writer works and thinks should read this.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    As a fledgling fiction writer, I really liked the author's descriptions of the challenges, heartaches and joys of writing. Some of her passages made me laugh and others made me realize I was not alone. I would have preferred if the whole book were observations on writing as I did not find the memoir parts particularly interesting, thus the 3-star rating.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Valérie Forgues

    J'ai découvert Annie Dillard à travers l'un de mes livres fétiches : "Le monde sur le flanc de la truite" de Robert Lalonde. À travers son carnet, Lalonde cite Dillard à plusieurs reprises, tissant des liens à travers leurs pratiques de l'écriture. Les notes de Robert Lalonde sur "l'art de voir, de lire et d'écrire" sont pour moi intimement liées à ce livre de Dillard.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jaime

    Many quotable sections in this piece, and I am forcing myself to select only one: "Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you." Like Stephen King in On Writing, Dillard has useful observations on revisions and on input/output issues (what you read becomes what you write). I am thinking about Elizabeth Gilbert's essay on her website, on the same topic, where she says something along the lines of "Write, write like your hair is on fire" in response to the question these work Many quotable sections in this piece, and I am forcing myself to select only one: "Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you." Like Stephen King in On Writing, Dillard has useful observations on revisions and on input/output issues (what you read becomes what you write). I am thinking about Elizabeth Gilbert's essay on her website, on the same topic, where she says something along the lines of "Write, write like your hair is on fire" in response to the question these works attempt to answer, which is first and foremost how one becomes a writer. One of the reviewers on the back says that Dillard's work is a sort of spiritual Strunk & White, which I agree with based on the glaring wisdom found every few pages. Her comments on technique tend to reveal her as a writer who is wrestling the demons/sentences out of her being in sequestered areas, whether cold cabins or borrowed library rooms. What I really like about her text here is that she doesn't moralize on the craft; she describes it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Claire McAlpine

    A kind of stream of consciousness on the writing process and memories of various writing haunts Annie Dillard has prowled around in procrastination, waiting for sentences to arrive unbidden. One of the most compelling part of the book were its latter pages when she talks about art and the aviator Dave Rahm, something that for most artists exists outside themselves and canbe viewed by the artist and for him, it was something he was part of, inside of, pure creation in a moment. "When Rahm flew, he A kind of stream of consciousness on the writing process and memories of various writing haunts Annie Dillard has prowled around in procrastination, waiting for sentences to arrive unbidden. One of the most compelling part of the book were its latter pages when she talks about art and the aviator Dave Rahm, something that for most artists exists outside themselves and canbe viewed by the artist and for him, it was something he was part of, inside of, pure creation in a moment. "When Rahm flew, he sat down in the middle of art, and strapped himself in. He spun it all around him. He could not see it himself. If he never saw it on film, he never saw it at all - as if Beethoven could not hear his final symphonies not because he was deaf, but because he was inside the paper on which he wrote. Rahm must have felt it happen, that fusion of vision and metal, motion and idea."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Susan Oleksiw

    This is one of those quirky books that take you inside a particular world, in this case, Annie Dillard's life as a writer. The book is not stuffed with advice on how to develop character or plot. Instead, it offers a series of days and experiences, a memoir circling around writing. One of the most amusing chapters, barely two pages, is about the day when her typewriter erupted. Even when she talks about other writers, she introduces them in a unique way, by the strange things they loved--Frank C This is one of those quirky books that take you inside a particular world, in this case, Annie Dillard's life as a writer. The book is not stuffed with advice on how to develop character or plot. Instead, it offers a series of days and experiences, a memoir circling around writing. One of the most amusing chapters, barely two pages, is about the day when her typewriter erupted. Even when she talks about other writers, she introduces them in a unique way, by the strange things they loved--Frank Conroy and yo-yo tricks, for example. Just as she looks into her life, she is looking into the lives of other writers. It is a gently intimate book about friends and fellow travelers on their respective solitary paths.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Aneesa

    This book is soooo boring. There are two or three paragraphs of beautiful and inspirational writing about writing (which I copied down onto index cards), and a couple of things to remember: Annie Dillard is not a fan of shitty first drafts or re-reading your work too often. But the rest of the book is an autobiography of the mind; mostly her mind while she's sitting in her office in the woods or on an island, freezing her fingers off, not having a day job, and not necessarily writing, or if writ This book is soooo boring. There are two or three paragraphs of beautiful and inspirational writing about writing (which I copied down onto index cards), and a couple of things to remember: Annie Dillard is not a fan of shitty first drafts or re-reading your work too often. But the rest of the book is an autobiography of the mind; mostly her mind while she's sitting in her office in the woods or on an island, freezing her fingers off, not having a day job, and not necessarily writing, or if writing, not writing anything anyone understands.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Theodora Goss

    I loved this book! I'm not sure I could stand having a writing life as isolated and agonizing as Dillard's, but boy she produces amazing prose out of it. And it was wonderful hearing about her process. Highly recommended for writers . . .

  30. 5 out of 5

    Clifford

    The basic message here is that writing is like wrestling alligators, if you're doing it right. It's a good reminder. The only way to do it well is to be immersed in it.

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