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The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
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The Writing Life (original 1989; edition 1990)

by Annie Dillard

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1,494None4,943 (3.83)43
Member:sbanas
Title:The Writing Life
Authors:Annie Dillard
Info:Harper Perennial (1990), Paperback, 128 pages
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The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (1989)

  1. 10
    Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein (mcgilh)
    mcgilh: I use this book over and over again in my writing. It is a wonderful master writing class, chapter by chapter.
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» See also 43 mentions

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This book arrived for me through interlibrary loan today. I was so excited that I read it cover to cover tonight. It's a slim volume, and reading it in one sitting struck me almost as a necessity. Dillard's words grip and hold fast from the first sentence. In this book she pinpoints and expounds on certain universal experiences among writers. But it's the way she shapes the text that is extraordinary. A master of the long form narrative, Dillard deftly weaves literary references and historical anecdotes in with her own poignant and unique tales of the writing life. Her metaphors are warm and natural, seamlessly highlighting her points without overstating their meaning. There is also humor here, a kind of fatalistic wryness born of a life spent engaged in the glorious madness of writing. As with Holy the Firm, the book's short length is no indication of how much content Dillard offers to her readers. My sense of awe has only continued to grow as I glimpse further into the depths of her skill and imagination. Finally, a quote:You write it all, discovering it at the end of the line of words. The line of words is a fiber optic, flexible as wire; it illuminates the path just before its fragile tip. You probe with it, delicate as a worm. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
You know that oh-so expressive word, "meh"? Well, that was kind of my reaction to Annie Dillard's slim volume, THE WRITING LIFE. I didn't find it all that exciting or enlightening. In fact there seemed to me to be a bit of ostentatious navel-gazing; maybe even a bit of intellectual 'showing off.' While there were a few semi-interesting bits here and there, like her descriptions of where she has written - a primitive cabin on an island in Puget Sound, a cinder block room in a college library, a well-equipped 'shed' on Cape Cod, etc. - there are no real revelations here about the writing life per se. Her description of her flight with a geologist-stunt pilot was interesting, and ... Ah, what the hell, maybe I just didn't 'get' what she was trying to do here.

To my mind, William Zinsser's books on writing are more useful, and certainly a lot more interesting. They are: ON WRITING WELL; WRITING ABOUT YOUR LIFE; and WRITING PLACES. Try those books. You'll be getting a lot more bang for your buck.

Sorry, Annie. I loved AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD, but this one? Meh. ( )
  TimBazzett | Feb 11, 2014 |
The Writing Life is a series of reflections on, appropriately enough, the life of writing – the grueling, dreadful, dispiriting life of writing. Such a book will probably not be of much interest for those who don't experience this struggle on a daily basis, but for those who do, the book is about as good as they come: honest, brave, and poetic.

Although there is scattered advice within its pages ("Aim for the chopping block"; "A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all"), this really is not a book about how to write. Rather, it is about what it is like to write ("This is your life. You are a Seminole alligator wrestler"), how it feels to write ("But how, if you are neither Zulu warrior nor Aztec maiden, do you prepare yourself, all alone, to enter an extraordinary state on an ordinary morning?").

Which is to say: The Writing Life provides neither encouragement nor enlightenment. It does, however, provide companionship; and when living the life of writing, sometimes that's exactly what you need. ( )
  williecostello | Jan 10, 2014 |
This book isn't about how to write, but rather it is about what the experience of writing, day in and day out, is like. It is part memoir, part meditation. It is written in such lush, beautiful prose that it is hard to believe Dillard when she confides how difficult writing is for her. Perhaps the best way to convey what this book is like is through a quote:

"At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your back, your heart, your brain, but then - and only then - it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbon and bows; it has two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read you name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawks."

This is a slim volume in which each sentence does a yeoman's work. ( )
  porch_reader | May 3, 2013 |
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 do her work while in nature. Also, there is a scene in the book where she tells an acquaintance that she hates what she does! I have to say that I wouldn't have minded a little more encouragement to pick up writing from this book. Maybe I will find another writer's writing on writing which is a bit more positive and enthusiastic on the topic. Not that I was expecting that from this book; I went into this one with a blank slate; it's just that this book has now prompted me to want to find a contrasting book.

One thing I could identify with the most was the questioning of living a life of the mind. It's something I constantly struggle with. I love to read and learn and study, and I'm always asking myself why am I doing so much thinking/imagining but hardly ever actually *doing* anything with my life? I can't say that Dillard really gave a satisfying resolution to this question, but I appreciated the attention given to the issue.

The book held my interest enough and didn't provoke many negative feelings in me, so 3 stars. ( )
  __Lindsey__ | Apr 17, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Annie Dillardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gilbert, TaviaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
No one suspects the days to be gods. --- Emerson
Dedication
For Bob
First words
When you write, you lay out a line of words.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060919884, Paperback)

Annie Dillard has spent a lot of time in remote, bare-bones shelters doing something she claims to hate: writing. Slender though it is, The Writing Life richly conveys the torturous, tortuous, and in rare moments, transcendent existence of the writer. Even for Dillard, whose prose is so mellifluous as to seem effortless, the act of writing can seem a Sisyphean task: "When you write," she says, "you lay out a line of words.... Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow or this time next year." Amid moving accounts of her own writing (and life) experiences, Dillard also manages to impart wisdom to other writers, wisdom having to do with passion and commitment and taking the work seriously. "One of the few 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.... Something more will arise for later, something better." And, if that is not enough, "Assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients," she says. "That is, after all, the case.... What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?"

This all makes The Writing Life seem a dense, tough read, but that is not the case at all. Dillard is, after all, human, just like the rest of us. During one particularly frantic moment, four cups of coffee and not much writing down, Dillard comes to a realization: "Many fine people were out there living, people whose consciences permitted them to sleep at night despite their not having written a decent sentence that day, or ever." --Jane Steinberg

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:39 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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.… (more)

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