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The Writing Life

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  8,962 Ratings  ·  725 Reviews
With color, irony, and sensitivity, Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard illuminates the dedication, absurdity, and daring that is the writer's life. As it probes and exposes, examines and analyzes, The Writing Life offers deeper insight into one of the most mysterious of professions. A gregarious recluse, Dillard has passed many days, weeks, and months in remote locations ...more
Audio CD, 4 pages
Published April 1st 2011 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published 1989)
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Jon Stephens It's a combination of small excerpts from her life with some random prose thrown in. If you've read "On Writing" by Steven King, it's the same sort of…moreIt's a combination of small excerpts from her life with some random prose thrown in. If you've read "On Writing" by Steven King, it's the same sort of thing... But with fewer direct tips and a bit more metaphor.(less)
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Feb 25, 2008 Malbadeen rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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
Ammara Abid
Feb 03, 2017 Ammara Abid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chance Maree
May 03, 2013 Chance Maree rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Jul 30, 2007 Elise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-nonfiction
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
Jul 16, 2013 Melanie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 08, 2012 Mark rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
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
Feb 02, 2015 Ken rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 01, 2016 Ju$tin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
annie dillard? more like annie dullard.

two big thumbs down.
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
Feb 15, 2012 Richard Gilbert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 19, 2012 Michael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Apr 27, 2013 Jaime rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Claire McAlpine
Jun 21, 2015 Claire McAlpine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Susan Oleksiw
Sep 06, 2013 Susan Oleksiw rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
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
Jun 22, 2009 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  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.
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.
Apr 26, 2013 Krista rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading -- that is a good life.

As I understand it, Jack Benny had always dreamed of being a virtuoso violinist and could play reasonably well, but
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
Apr 04, 2013 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 31, 2011 Shayda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-practice
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
Nov 14, 2009 Rachel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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Wolverine Farm Pu...: The Writing Life 3 20 Nov 28, 2012 07:02AM  
  • The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
  • Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew
  • The Forest for the Trees
  • The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art
  • Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life
  • On Becoming a Novelist
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
  • If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
  • Becoming a Writer
  • Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication & Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • Making a Literary Life
  • From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
  • The Writer's Idea Book
  • Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
  • Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer's Life
  • The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present
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
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“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 498 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.” 133 likes
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