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The Writing Life

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  6,070 ratings  ·  498 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.
MP3 CD, 1 page
Published April 1st 2011 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published 1989)
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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...more
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...more
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...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...more
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...more
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
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...more
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
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
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.
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...more
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...more
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 example
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...more
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...more
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
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 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...more
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
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.
If you're a writer or aspire to be one, read this. Period. It's only 111 pages, readable in an afternoon but the inspiration will stick with you forever.

I got my copy used and it was inscribed to "Casey" who was headed to Haverford in 2006; I can't help but feel s/he will regret having given this one up when s/he gets a little older...but s/he ain't gettin' mine.
J. Morgan
In my opinion, I feel Annie Dillard is rather pompous. Need proof? One need not look further than the title of her book, "The Writing Life." I recognize that Dillard is writing primarily of her experiences, yet she applies them broadly to everyone. Since so much of the book is personal in nature, as is writing to individuals, wouldn’t a better title be "A Writing Life?"

I attended a writer’s conference where Kevin J. Anderson was the keynote speaker. Anderson is an extremely prolific writer. He’s...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.
If I wasn't already painfully aware, I now know I may never be a writer. When the author asked her student, aspiring writer, if s/he loved "sentences," I almost cried because my answer is, "I don't." Sentences, sentence structure, and words have always been a struggle. I am simple. I like story. Now, how can I overcome this obstacle, this most necessary of writing requirements, and learn to love sentences? Is this even something possible to learn? Basically this book is one anecdote, short essay...more
Bob Nichols
Dillard opens her book with, “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.” And I got stuck with this book right from the beginning. I’m thinking a writer writes with intent, but then Dillard says that the writer switches from actor and driver to tool and vehicle. The writing takes over - “digs a path” – and the writer follows. I thought about this and perhaps she’s on to so...more
Dillard manages to show the intense intellectual and physical work of writing and still make the challenge appealing. Excellent writing is not accidental. Though I read this book many years ago, I still recall some of Dillard's writing advice (although I did need to look up the wording):

"One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, lose it, play it, all, every time, right away.

Do not hoard what seems good for a different place...Something more will arise for later
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...more
Jayne Bowers
Although The Writing Life was not what I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I thought it was going to be full of advice, a how-to book about how to craft the perfect sentence, write believable dialogue, or "show, not tell," but instead the small volume was about Annie Dillard's daily life and her writing struggles.

A student of life in all forms (including moths and cats), Dillard illustrates that everything can be a subject worthy of writing about. How does she do it? Is there a secret?...more
The semester's over: Hooray for everything! And now back to reading.

I'm actually reading another book, but found this on the bookshelf and wondered where it came from. Ruth probably picked it up at Housing Works or else at a stoop sale. Anyway, it was a nice surprise to see it hanging out on the bookshelf and so I flipped it open out of boredom to gander at the first page. And the writing just took over from there, as I couldn't put it down. The book has a wonderful pace to it and many extraordi...more
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Wolverine Farm Pu...: The Writing Life 3 17 Nov 28, 2012 07:02AM  
  • The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
  • Making a Literary Life
  • Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life
  • If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
  • The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art
  • Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew
  • Becoming a Writer
  • The Forest for the Trees
  • The Writer's Idea Book
  • The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative
  • Writing from the Inside Out
  • Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words
  • Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer's Life
  • Writing a Woman's Life
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...
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek An American Childhood The Maytrees Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters Holy the Firm

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“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.” 93 likes
“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.” 86 likes
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