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Writing Life [Paperback]

Annie Dillard
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 30 1990
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.

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Writing Life + Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
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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

From Publishers Weekly

"In this collection of short essays, the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and An American Childhood probes the sorcery that levitates her own writing, discussing with clear eye and wry wit how, where and why she writes," said PW .
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
When you write, you lav out a line of words. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Show not tell -- Word tapestry --Art June 29 2004
Annie Dillard's The Writing Life is as economical a bit of art within 112 pages as Holy the Firm.
As clear a piece of imigry as Teaching A Stone to Talk. Life is a tender piece of show not tell. Dillard explains by weaving words and art and story into a readers ear and mind and heart, and gently stitches soul into the piece.
Tidbits include:
"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..."
"The writer studies literature, not the world. He lives in the world; he cannot miss it. If he has ever bought a hamburger, or taken a commercial airplane flight, he spares his readers a report of his experience. He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know."

Interspersed with stories of inchworms, moths, ocean currents, artists and phantom psychotic chess opponents she weaves a fine tapestry of word upon a backdrop of seaside cabins and rain.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Writing Life Feb. 2 2004
This book was not meant to inspire writers who are aiming for three books a year, and a story a day. It is not a how-to book.
It is an autobiography. More, I think it is a message from one writer to another. It's like a "hey, we all go through this."
The book itself is well written. The grammatical errors irritated me at times, but it was written in a casual tone. The practical tone it was written is nice. It's more factual than "you must do this and this and this". I enjoyed the narratives: they have opinions, and hinted ideas and suggestions, but often times you as the reader get to decide.
What i found most enjoyable about this book is actually the ironic humour. It is not "hahaha" humour. It is simply interesting reading about a fellow writer's frustrations. Indeed, Dillard's self-contempt at times can be hillarious.
I would believe that this book is meant more for those who write or have written. It's something for writers to connect with each other. It's like a mountain biker talking to another mountain biker. A baseball player would not be able to fully appreciate the difficulties and the experiences.
This is a great book though. But it's got a certain audience.
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2.0 out of 5 stars The Writing Life. (Dillard's not yours) Dec 12 2003
If like me, you thought this title held real pragmatic promise for aspiring writers, you may be disappointed, as I was, to reach the end but feeling not much the wiser for doing so.
I had been looking for an insightful guide to the mechanics of writing and among the competition this seemed the best bet. Respecting Dillard's past work gave me some genuine reason for hope that I would not be disappointed in her approach. I was also expectant of tapping that same creative and highly metaphorical vein that runs through Dillard's prose.
Perhaps you are looking for the same river. However, one has to prospect ruthlessly to find gold near the surface in The Writing Life. Like her other works, one has to go deeper than the seam to find the gem among the ordinary grit. As far as helpful material for the writer is concerned, even the deep yielded little for me. The exception to this is, is undoubtedly Chapter 5, where she finally comes the nearest to translating her thoughts into the vernacular of the general reader by highlighting the external factors that form the writer's style and vision. Her observations and comments here do shed some light on her own inimitable way of writing and also give light into a book, that up to that point, had me groping for other 'light' relief. The rest deals more with the cause and effect of (her) writing, rather than rooting out causes and artistically penning the effects.
Despite its highly anecdotal and at times self-indulgent structure, The Writing Life does allow you to enter some of Dillard's wrestling to bring her heart to her subject matter, a task she executes consistently with vivacity and conviction.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Do not hurry; do not rest. Dec 11 2003
Do not read this book if you expect that your motor will be awakened for the first time; look elsewhere if you've not been an exhausted writer, humiliated in your attempts to lay down a long line of text. She didn't write this book for you. This book was written for they who have entered that room and turned their backs on it. To all others, she urges you to go and learn a useful trade. Sorry.
The Writing Life is comfort for the writer: that "It takes years to write a book--between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant". In this book, Annie lays out the long labor of writing good work. It's not a text book, it's not 'writing for dummies'. It is beautifully stark and powerful writing, laced with the same brilliance that fills her novels. She doesn't aim to teach you how to crank out 5 pages a day, 25 a week, three books a year, a career of comfort and success--she stares the word white in the face, says it's useless to tame it, it's useless to expect--and still the words come. She says slow at first, and slow in the middle and end. Always slow, one sentence at a time. She says: "Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair".
Tired writers, find some rest here and then move on: inward and upward. This book is so full of joys and wisdom, I read it through once, and opened it again. I'm now on my second read in a week and finding the desire to write ever stronger in my hands and my gut.
It's great. Go read.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
I bought this book as it was highly praised by another author whose book I was reading. I enjoy writing, but Annie is way beyond me so I felt disappointed - not saying it is her... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Grace VB
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent read, but it won't change your life
The Boston Globe calls Annie Dillard's The Writing Life a "small and brilliant guidebook to the landscape of a writer's task.... Read more
Published on Dec 6 2003 by Debra Hamel
5.0 out of 5 stars Very useful
Above all, this book will help any aspiring writer to conquer his or her own fears about "the writing life". Read more
Published on Oct. 12 2003 by Seth
5.0 out of 5 stars Annie Dillard gave me hope and faith
If someone of Annie Dillard's stature can write like this while claiming to abhor the whole process, then there's hope for all of us writers. Read more
Published on April 2 2003 by Peggy Vincent
5.0 out of 5 stars The Writing Life
Above all else, this book is a wonderful parable about living. In it, writing is a metaphor for life. Read more
Published on Nov. 12 2002 by R. Peavey
5.0 out of 5 stars "I Was Wrestling Inside a Sentence..."
Skills are those little beasts we have conquered, tamed into submission, and made our own, but instinct... that is that inner whisper that will not be quiet, even when we beg. Read more
Published on April 3 2002 by Zinta Aistars
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely not a how to book. But very inspirational
I was in search of books on essays, not so much on how to write but how to go about writing. The approach, the discipline of writing. Read more
Published on Feb. 20 2002 by P. Wung
4.0 out of 5 stars One writer's perspective
In "The Writing Life," Annie Dillard reflects on the writer's craft and calling. This short book takes the form of an extended essay that is divided into several chapters. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2002 by Michael J. Mazza
4.0 out of 5 stars The Writing Life
The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard, is a book describing the life of a writer from her perspective. She describes her life as well as gives suggestions as to help new writers do... Read more
Published on Dec 7 2001
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