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The Writing Life

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  15,872 ratings  ·  1,347 reviews
From Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie Dillard, a collection that illuminates the dedication and daring that characterizes a writer's life.

In these short essays, Annie Dillard—the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and An American Childhood—illuminates the dedication, absurdity, and daring that characterize the existence of a writer. A moving account of Dillard’s own experiences
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Paperback, 111 pages
Published 2013 by Harper Perennial (HarperCollins) (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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Dolors
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Dolors by: Aspiring writers and all kind of readers
Shelves: read-in-2017
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
...more
Michael
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recs, 2018
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 ...more
Justin Tate
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful essays on writing. It’s not a how-to guide, but more of a metaphorical deglamorization of what it means to be a writer. The gist is that writing is agonizing work and those who are sane should probably avoid it.

In her most dramatic moment, Dillard compares being a writer to being a stunt pilot. Stunt pilots write poetry in the sky with their loops and spins. The audience is amazed by this beauty and imagines how wonderful it must feel. In the cockpit, however, the pilot is experiencing
...more
Leonard Gaya
Jan 16, 2022 rated it liked it
The Writing Life is a short book where Annie Dillard recounts, in elegant prose, a few autobiographical anecdotes. And, since she is a writer, some of these reminiscences incidentally or metaphorically provide insights about her craft: writing as mining, sailing, painting, chopping wood or aerobatics; writing like an inchworm or like a strand of fibreoptic… This book abounds in such analogies.

Although ironic, Annie Dillard’s meditations are sometimes a bit harsh and disheartening: “Why not shoot
...more
Malbadeen
Feb 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Riku Sayuj
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Jeff Jackson
Nov 12, 2008 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Lisa Reads & Reviews
May 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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
Ammara Abid
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Ken
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Melanie
Jul 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mark
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Ilana
I did several things wrong as a reader with this book. I picked this one up before reading anything else by Annie Dillard, when I had intended to start with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but that one’s in hardback format and reading actual books these days is... doesn’t happen much. Must fix that.

I also picked up the audiobook with a narrator who seemed all wrong for it. She sounded too young and too... more like someone who might read fantasy or science fiction or crime fiction.

I picked it up beca
...more
Elise
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
...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
Lisa
Jul 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
This was not the book that I hoped. In "How to Write an Autobiographical Novel," I loved the way Alexander Chee described his writing lessons at Wesleyan with Annie Dillard. But I preferred his description of her teaching to her actual writing. Weird. I blame myself for the mismatch. Dillard is writing here about the process of writing, what a writer's life is like. And she does it well. It just didn't move me. ...more
Lee
Feb 21, 2022 rated it really liked it
Delightful (I know that's an easy word to use, but it's never been more appropriate than here) series of essays on and around writing. Some useful analogies. The one about drawing an exact replica of the view from the window on a screen erected to obscure it (in a room in which the author is meant to be writing) is perfect; as is the one about chopping wood ("There is another way of saying this. Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim th ...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
Ky
Mar 26, 2016 rated it did not like it
A few (and I mean a few) worthwhile insights on the craft, but dry, dry, dry. Self absorbed and precious too, even conceded. She leaves out much of what the reader entering this book will want from it and includes most of what they will not.

Then you have deal-breakers such as the following: "It should surprise no one that the life of the writer--such as it is--is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world. This expl
...more
Mary-ellen
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
I wasn’t a fan of this brief book on writing.

Annie Dillard might be a successful writer herself, but this book wasn’t encouraging to would-be writers who are likely to be the readers of this book. She made it feel like writing was almost impossible to do well.

She had some interesting metaphors for various aspects of writing but they we’re so drawn out it seemed to take forever for Dillard to get to the point. I wasn’t looking to be impressed by her writing, which seemed to be her focus, I actual
...more
Michael
Mar 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Ju$tin
Jun 01, 2016 rated it did not like it
annie dillard? more like annie dullard.





two big thumbs down.
Aneesa
Nov 30, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Shawn Smucker
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I try to reread this one every so often because I find it encouraging and motivating. I highly recommend it.
Morgan
Dec 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
The Writing Life — 3.5 ★

I received this book in 2015 as one of four books given by one of my mentors, a professor at my undergraduate college. It's funny looking back and realizing that ¾ books given were about writing... Cleary she noticed my growing fondness for writing much before I was able to put words to it (pun intended).

Don't ask me why it's taken me years to read this little book. Or ask me, and I'll say Timing*
And that time finally came when @magicpages inspired me to pick it up, and s
...more
Krista
Apr 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...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
...more
Greg
Jan 30, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Richard Gilbert
Feb 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Thomas
In her writing-centered memoir The Writing Life Annie Dillard distills profound wisdom on what it truly means to write for life. She delineates the process, people's perception of the art, and events from her life that have influenced her writing. But the best part of this book was her penchant for metaphor - perhaps it would have gotten tiresome in a longer work, but here it blew me away. How she compares a log at sea to finding a story, misguided butterflies to individuals addicted to movies, ...more
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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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