The Writing Life Paperback – Nov 12 2013
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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 .
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Top Customer Reviews
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 explains why so many books describe the author's childhood. A writer's childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience."
Ask yourself: how many writers, like Dillard, are privileged enough to be able to winter in seaside cabins in order to devote all their time to writing? How many writers, working in ANY genre, do not honour the real world as an irreplaceable and primary source, regardless how much or not they intend to reflect it? This is just one example of Dillard at her least self-scrutinizing and, for that fact, least wise. (Wisdom ostensibly being the book's offering.)
For a work whose focus boomerangs so frequently back to a writer's insecurities and uncertainties, "The Writing Life" is remarkably sure of itself, seemingly unaware that it's a shining example of why writers need such character flaws in the first place.
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.
"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.
Regardless of the type of writing you are involved in, this book will certainly give you the inspiration to continue on what seems to be a dark and narrow road.
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.
Dillard's book reads like a series of journal entries, which may indeed have been its origin. Some of the entries are amusing, for example Dillard's description of her weeks-long, late-night chess game with an unknown opponent who, she briefly thinks, just might be the diaper-clad but otherwise naked baby she finds hovering around the board one evening. But some of the entries are mere poetic, well, nonsense: "The line of words is a fiber optic, flexible as wire; it illumines the path just before its fragile tip. You probe with it, delicate as a worm." The Writing Life cannot, I should think, be of any practical benefit to writers. And it is neither a "guidebook" nor a particularly inspiring piece of prose, however much the blurbists may rave. But it is intermittently interesting, and, after all, it is a very quick read.
Most recent customer reviews
What can I say? Annie Dillard is one of my very favourite writers, beginning with "Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek. Read morePublished 20 months ago by SusannahReads
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 morePublished on April 9 2013 by Grace VB
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... Read morePublished on Dec 12 2003 by Ian Jupp
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... Read morePublished on Dec 11 2003 by David Stith
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 morePublished on April 2 2003 by Peggy Vincent
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