Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Writing Life” as Want to Read:
The Writing Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Writing Life

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  7,320 ratings  ·  600 reviews
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.
ebook, 128 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 1989)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Writing Life, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Writing Life

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Feb 26, 2008 Malbadeen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: chicken man
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
Chance Maree

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
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
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
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 ...more
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
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 ...more
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
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
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.
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 ...more
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
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
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 ...more
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
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
Sarah Zaharia
I surprised myself by how moved I was by this book. Annie Dillard lays herself out with amazing vulnerability talking about her process, struggle and relationship with writing. I read it in two sittings and not just because the book is a tight 111 pages but because it absolutely demands your full attention. She had me laughing out loud again and again and when I closed the book I had tears in my eyes. I would recommend this book to anyone who has considered writing or even has an appreciation fo ...more
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
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 ...more
Robb Todd
Anyone who writes should read this -- more than once. After you finish it, keep it on your desk and just flip it open to random page, read a few paragraphs, then proceed with your work.
I took a pink highlighter to this book. I rarely, if ever, mark up any of my books in such a way, but it seemed as though, on every other page, Annie Dillard imparted some sort of wisdom or insight that I didn't want to forget. I marked them so I could find them easily later. The trouble is, I may have marked up more than half of the book so, in the end, I'm not sure what kind of good it did me.

The Writing Life is different from all those other books that promise to show you how to write a best-
This is not a practical book, like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life; it's more of a writer's confession, with descriptions of enclosed workspaces and the tyranny of the "line of words." The final chapter leaves writing behind (ostensibly) to talk about a stunt flyer's work.

I re-read this for purely selfish reasons: to see how it felt to read about writing, having finished my dissertation. Because of this frame of reference, I was most attentive to Dillard's desc
I'm not a writer, so I couldn't really identify with anything in here. I also did not have the desire to become a writer after reading this book! Dillard makes it sound completely non-glamorous - spending time in places that offer the best sensory deprivation (i.e. a blah room with no view) and continuously poisoning the body with loads of caffeine and cigarettes. I have never read any of her other work, but I guess she writes a lot about nature? I was surprised to find, then, that she does not ...more
Excellent book! It is anything but dull. So informative, entertaining and candid as well as inspiring.

Quotes: "Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence. It is life at its most free. Your freedom as a writer is not freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip. It is life at it's most free, if you are fortunate enough to be able to try it, because you select your materials, i
Tabitha Blankenbiller
Hmm. I had high hopes for this book. Annie Dillard’s essay was in Writing Creative Nonfiction’s example portion, and was a shining example of simple, succinct prose. Her subdued descriptions of a stunt pilot gave his life’s work an entire new level of grace. I was looking forward to learning some more writing tips and wisdom, a la Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird.

The Writing Life is definitely not an instruction manual in leading the aforementioned life. There are no exercises or pep talks. There are
This book seems to be simply a series of meditations on writing and being a writer (and avoiding writing and being a writer, as well). I use the word "simply" because, ultimately, this is rather a simple book. It's not idiotic, but no great insights are revealed, and nothing comes to the surface to provide any new or revelatory description of The Writing Life. The book seems, instead, to be a collection of thoughts about writing and any other subject that seems to come up. It is almost as if Ann ...more
I love this book.

It's not so much a how-to guide as it is a poem about a path too often undertaken.

If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a writer, or to try to write, then this is the book to read. It's slender and simple and easy to access.

Don't expect to get any practical tips on method or craft or publishing. If you're not a writer, expect to go on a musical hop-scotch through the experiences of one writer. If you do write, then expect to be inspired and brought to the brink
Kelly Carlin
Any time I need to dip into the depths of what it means to write, I open this book. Annie's use of language is exquisite. She grounds me in what is important about being human and a writer.
Annie Dilliard writes some amazing sentences. So I found The Writing Life to be a fascinating look into the workings of her process. This isn't a how-to guide, but it will inspire writers, no matter where they are in the process (of writing and of becoming a published writer). Some of the passages are stunning, not only for their aesthetic beauty but their insight about writing and reading. For my writer friends, take a gander:

"Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heighte
Jul 02, 2009 Teresa rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Teresa by: Cynthia Tooley
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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Wolverine Farm Pu...: The Writing Life 3 19 Nov 28, 2012 07:02AM  
  • Making a Literary Life
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
  • The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art
  • Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
  • Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew
  • Becoming a Writer
  • The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative
  • If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
  • Page After Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing (No Matter What!)
  • The Forest for the Trees
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
  • The Writer's Idea Book
  • Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies
  • One Writer's Beginnings
  • Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words
Annie Dillard (born April 30, 1945) is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan Unive ...more
More about Annie Dillard...

Share This Book

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 421 likes
“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.” 115 likes
More quotes…