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The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  824 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
A tribute to the brilliant craftsmanship of one of our most distinguished writers, providing valuable insight into her inspiration and her method

Joyce Carol Oates is widely regarded as one of America's greatest contemporary literary figures. Having written in a number of genres -- prose, poetry, personal and critical essays, as well as plays -- she is an artist ideally sui
Paperback, 176 pages
Published September 14th 2004 by Ecco (first published 2003)
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Oct 25, 2012 Fabian rated it really liked it
A rich and prolific literary life—this is the reason why the young reader should prick up his ears, pick up The Faith of a Writer, and begin to discern the secret of JCO’s success. Her first invaluable gem of wisdom? “Young or beginning writers must be urged to read widely, ceaselessly, both classics and contemporaries, for without an immersion in the history of the craft, one is doomed to remain an amateur: an individual for whom enthusiasm is ninety-nine percent of the creative effort." Which ...more
Apr 12, 2012 David rated it liked it
There's something really absurd about writing a book about writing a book. Every mind is so different, and what works for one, will not work for another; so inevitably these books (Oates' The Faith of a Writer, Lamott's Bird by Bird - which I only recently learned isn't about bird-counting, who knew right?, the many, many "On Writing"-esque pretensions) are not about "how to write" but are an entirely egotistical account of "how I write."

That is the obvious shortcoming of this book. But it is so
Mar 03, 2010 Megankellie rated it liked it
Shelves: writingnerdout
She says "memesis."

Reading this, I felt angry, bored and jealous. Then I hated her more, then I decided I'd hate her writing. Then I wasn't reading this for like a week and I keep thinking about it. She seems humorless and boring, but part of me is angry that I can't manage to be exactly like her and dear Lord, look at the number of books she's written. You'll hear a lot of Ivy League and Summer Home and "my office" comments, which if you are mature will not make you angry. Just don't expect to
Paula Cappa
Dec 15, 2014 Paula Cappa rated it really liked it
This book is about the art of writing. Oates tells us that 'writing is not a race ... the satisfaction is in the effort.' She presents what is important to the narrative craft and so much here is like a good meal. She writes a whole chapter here on failure: are artists (writers) secretly in love with failure? I especially liked her examples on how to read as a writer, and, her thoughts on the destructive self-criticism that so many writers struggle with. If you are a writer who desires to unders ...more
Hanje Richards
Feb 12, 2015 Hanje Richards rated it liked it
One of my challenges this year is to read one essay a day. 365 essays in the course of the year. To that end, I have been exposing myself to essays by a variety of writers, some familiar to me, some not. I was actually searching for something else by Joyce Carol Oates, when I happened upon this small volume and thought I would give it a try.

By the time I finished this book, sadly I was pretty convinced that in spite of the fact that I have been telling people for the past two year that I write
Mar 08, 2009 Elaine rated it it was amazing
Such an elegant writer. This is one of the best books on writing that I have read, and I have read my share. I copied this for my writing workshop: Since writing is ideally a balance between the private vision and the public world, the one passionate and often inchoate, the other formally constructed, quick to categorize and assess, it's necessary to thin of this art as a craft. Without craft, art remains private, Without art, craft is merely hackwork." I mean, really, what more is there to say. ...more
“I have to tell is the writer’s first thoughts; the second thought is How do I tell it? From our reading, we discover how various the solutions to these questions are; how stamped with an individual’s personality. For it’s at the junction of private vision and the wish to create a communal, public vision that art and craft merge.” p. 126

I have not read anything by Oates in at least a decade. I liked what I have read, but I am overwhelmed by the volume of her writing. When a new Oates book comes
Kate Campbell
Sep 15, 2013 Kate Campbell rated it really liked it
Writers of literary fiction will find The Faith of a Writer indespensible. Joyce Carol Oates goes to the heart of issues that concern writers of serious fiction. Oates writes: "It isn't the subjects we write about but the seriousness and subtlety of our expression that determines the worth of our effort." She makes the case for a careful study of craft, tied to inspiration, to shape art in prose form. She stresses that "it's at the junction of private vision and the wish to create a communal, pu ...more
Dec 19, 2010 Kerry rated it really liked it
Educational, but still a wonderful read.

I thought this memoir of Joyce Carol Oates life and career was just a wonderful piece of literature. The twelve essays were given in such a way that I could easy understand. The essays explore Ms. Oates' driving force in her career as a writer. These essays are very educational for aspiring authors and even for those folks like me that just want to learn about a great writer such as Ms. Oates.
There were detail discussion by the author on her daily life; he
Kevin Brown
Aug 31, 2014 Kevin Brown rated it liked it
I liked this book a lot more as it progressed, especially when Oates got into talking about how and why particular short stories work. She's obviously very well read, and she can talk about other writers' work better than more writers I've heard try to do so. Once she moves out of the general comments and into the specifics, the book improves.
Dec 02, 2007 David rated it it was ok
A disappointment, particularly on the heels of reading The Falls. The clash of her fast-flowing, emotionally involving narrative voice with the kind of studied, academic blah blah blah I hadn't encountered since...well, since leaving grad school.
Santino Prinzi
Dec 11, 2013 Santino Prinzi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mindblowingly insightful.
Jan 22, 2017 Victor rated it it was ok
OK, as in not bad, not great. I don't care that much for running, so maybe I just don't believe her that it's a magical space for writers. I liked the sections when she traced the influence of writers on other writers. The most useful tip I received from this book is that when writing a long document, go back and forth to revise the early parts.
Jan 03, 2017 Hue rated it really liked it
Quite similar to what you'd discuss in a creative writing class. If you enjoy writers' talks, you'll enjoy this one.
Sep 13, 2008 Zinta rated it really liked it
"Art," writes Joyce Carol Oates, "is the highest expression of the human spirit." And while humankind has often struggled to express why it is that art is so very necessary to our spirits (why is art the first course cut in public education when budgets require constraint?), we cannot exist without it. Art is, in great part, our communication with each other, our attempt as social animals to connect, but first and foremost, as Oates goes on to describe, it is our solitary striving to go deep - i ...more
Jan 15, 2017 Kathryn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Very good as always. Read about 1/2.
Jan 01, 2017 Carolyn rated it liked it
This took me a long while to read, but it was good... heavy but good. I particularly enjoyed the last entry - "JCO" and I. The public personae of a writer versus her own self. It echoes the novel she wrote about Norma Jeane Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe).
Apr 19, 2012 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not really sure where the last hundred or so pages of this book went. I sat down to read it while hitting a dead patch in my writing this afternoon and ended up finishing the book as Oates took me along with her train of thought. I cursed myself the entire time for having checked this book out of the library rather than buying it, thereby not being able to underline and comment and make a general conversational mess of the text (I mean, I could have, but the library probably would have gotte ...more
LK Hunsaker
Apr 07, 2014 LK Hunsaker rated it liked it
I enjoy the fiction I've read by Joyce Carol Oates and I intend to read far more of it. As with Marilynne Robinson, however, I found this book about the writing craft a little hard to wade through at times.

There are, indeed, several big gems I've bookmarked, but much of it is too based on her own viewpoint that people become writers because they adore language. I was surprised at this stance, given how her novels feel as though they are about the story, not about the language (although, yes, the
Aug 01, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it
The author of Black Water, Rape: a Love Story and The Tattooed Girl ruminates on writing, including her thoughts on other writers. She discusses inspiration, failure, criticism, influences and reading. It’s an intriguing foray into the writing process from initial concept to final product.

I believe that art is the highest expression of the human spirit.

Your struggle with your buried self, or selves, yields your art’ these emotions are the fuel that drives your writing and makes possible hours, d
Charles Bechtel
Aug 21, 2011 Charles Bechtel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Writers who have contemplated writing a novel
Recommended to Charles by: A library browsing
She's amazing for being prolific, and I am sure there are legions of faithful Oatesians out there, but I rarely hear her books discussed as much as her activity in producing them. I own a dozen JCO books, and have finished only one, the shortest. This may be the cruelest thing a fellow writer can say, that she loses me almost always.

Be that as it may, 'The Faith of a Writer: life, craft, art' is a book worth reading, if you are a writer. I can't imagine a reader having much to glean from it, unl
Dec 20, 2016 sisterimapoet rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction16
Despite her vast output, and all my reading, this is the first Oates book I've read.

I like her approach - she doesn't pull punches, tells it the way she sees it. Gives us insight into her writing life, which might encourage our own.

I'm looking forward to trying some of her fiction now.
Aug 15, 2015 Pete rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The chapter on writing and failure is something close to a masterpiece -- witty, erudite and full of insight. The chapter on reading as a writer is a master-class in succinct, astute and erudite (the word is hard to avoid with Oates) critical assessment. The chapter on inspiration is full of examples that make clear the human source of creativity, not giving us the cop-out. The ideas in these later chapters come quick and rich, never belabored, and I imagine they will inspire the young writer as ...more
Ron Christiansen
Jul 26, 2012 Ron Christiansen rated it really liked it
Shelves: nf, on-writing
More literary and less personal than I thought it would be and she does focus a lot on white male authors (Joyce, Hemingway, Faulkner etc--though quite a lot on Virginia Wolf) as one goodreads reviewer points out; still a solid read about writing with a different angle than one usually gets (see Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird or Stephen Kings On writing). I found many compelling passages: "One is born not to suffer but to negotiate with suffering, to choose or invent forms to accommodate it" (67) or ...more
Nik Markevicius
Jan 11, 2013 Nik Markevicius rated it really liked it
Think about what an impressionist painter might have to say about the way he goes about his or her art. That's the feeling I have after reading these essays on the creative writing process. This is a book for writers, and it's by good at being inspiring without every offering you a single concrete how-to conceding any aspect of the craft. Instead, we have the musings of an artist on art, shaped and formed carefully so that, hopefully, one may take away something which aids him/her in the creativ ...more
Sep 12, 2011 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This collection of essays and one re-printed interview is not the feel good sort of lift you up make you want to write memoir on writing, as say, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, or Stephen King's part memoir, part instruction On Writing. It's more a psychological look at writing and writers, heavy hitters to be specific, with the slant of literary criticism one might expect from America's preeminent female contemporary author, and Princeton professor.

I loved it, and wish I owned a copy. And I need
Dec 27, 2010 Anne rated it did not like it
This book reads like it is written by someone who is really stuck up. By stuck-up, I mean someone who takes themselves and their privileges too seriously. JCO gives some good pointer about how to feel about the act of writing and failing, but over-emphasizes the works of the white male cannon, with no reflexivity on all that it excludes; she just seems to be happy that she has been given a provisional pass to join it. Moreover, she makes some sweeping statements about the writing life that simpl ...more
Oct 08, 2013 Northpapers rated it really liked it
I had read a few of these essays elsewhere, but I enjoyed this collection. It's not a guide to writing, because who needs another guide to writing? It's also not really about how Oates writes, although there are tidbits about her process.

It's really a collection of wonderful essays that hold writing up and look at it from different angles. In these essays, JCO examines, plays, with, and elucidates the tension between the writer and her work, the fact of inspiration, the relationship between run
Jun 16, 2009 Echo rated it it was ok
This book wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I was expecting either. I thought it would be one of those writing books where the author talks about their own writing process. Instead, she seemed to ramble on without really coming to a point and to talk about other authors and how they did things. And since they're mostly dead and never wrote their own books on writing, these thoughts on how they did things are drawn from their personal diaries, memoirs, or their novels. I felt like I was reading a st ...more
Mar 27, 2009 Colin rated it liked it
Essentially a more cerebral version of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird - (though I'm sure both Oates and Lamott would both prickle to hear me say it) whether you prefer Lamott's plain-spoken advice or Joyce Carol Oates' oblique, analytical voice is really up to the reader.

The individual chapters are cobbled together from an assortment of sources; at times you may find yourself wondering what one chapter's relation to another might be. The final two chapters especially seem a bit superfluous: One is
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more
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