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The Writing Life

The Writing Life

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The Writing Life

ratings:
4/5 (69 ratings)
Length:
89 pages
1 hour
Publisher:
Released:
Oct 13, 2009
ISBN:
9780061863820
Format:
Book

Description

From Scribd: About the Book

With twelve books to her name, Annie Dillard is a writer in her own right, but it’s The Writing Life, her seminal depiction of what it means to be a writer, that cemented her place in classrooms and on bookshelves across the world. With all of the skill of a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Dillard weaves a varied, sensitive image of a writer’s life, illuminating the quiet corners and deep absurdities of one of the most mysterious professions.

Dillard leads you through her own writing path, stopping to introduce readers to the strategies she deploys to find the time and space she needs to organize her thoughts. With thoughtful repetition and a measured consistency, The Writing Life is an intimate memoir dedicated to probing the craft so many apply themselves to. Her studious love of language, her playful tinkering with form, and her tongue-in-cheek prodding at the eccentricities that make up a writer’s life all work together to craft a beautiful portrayal of who she is and why she does what she does.

Publisher:
Released:
Oct 13, 2009
ISBN:
9780061863820
Format:
Book

About the author

Annie Dillard is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, An American Childhood, The Writing Life, The Living and The Maytrees. She is a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and has received fellowship grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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The Writing Life - Annie Dillard

Publisher

Chapter One

Do not hurry; do not rest.

—GOETHE

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. 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.

You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins.

The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all the angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.

The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years’ attention to these things, you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it out. Duck.

Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff the work needs it, or the world. Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality: this writing weakens the work. You must demolish the work and start over. You can save some of the sentences, like bricks. It will be a miracle if you can save some of the paragraphs, no matter how excellent in themselves or hard-won. You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now. (Are you a woman, or a mouse?)

The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin. Henry James knew it well, and said it best. In his preface to The Spoils of Poynton, he pities the writer, in a comical pair of sentences that rises to a howl: "Which is the work in which he hasn’t surrendered, under dire difficulty, the best thing he meant to have kept? In which indeed, before the dreadful done, doesn’t he ask himself what has become of the thing all for the sweet sake of which it was to proceed to that extremity?"

So it is that a writer writes many books. In each book, he intended several urgent and vivid points, many of which he sacrificed as the book’s form hardened. The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, Thoreau noted mournfully, or perchance a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concludes to build a wood-shed with them. The writer returns to these materials, these passionate subjects, as to unfinished business, for they are his life’s work.

It is the beginning of a work that the writer throws away.

A painting covers its tracks. Painters work from the ground up. The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions, and obliterates them. Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right. The discardable chapters are on the left. The latest version of a literary work begins somewhere in the work’s middle, and hardens toward the end. The earlier version remains lumpishly on the left; the work’s beginning greets the reader with the wrong hand. In those early pages and chapters anyone may find bold leaps to nowhere, read the brave beginnings of dropped themes, hear a tone since abandoned, discover blind alleys, track red herrings, and laboriously learn a setting now false.

Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw away work. If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable, like poetry known by heart; they will perfectly answer their own familiar rhythms. He will retain them. He may retain those pages if they possess some virtues, such as power in themselves, though they lack the cardinal virtue, which is pertinence to, and unity with, the book’s thrust. Sometimes the writer leaves his early chapters in place from gratitude; he cannot contemplate them or read them without feeling again the blessed relief that exalted him when the words first appeared—relief that he was writing anything at all. That beginning served to get him where he was going, after all; surely the reader needs it, too, as groundwork. But no.

Every year the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judgment. Every year the old man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles, bad and good. Every year the old man moved a certain landscape print into the bad stack. At length he turned to the young man: You submit this same landscape every year, and every year I put it on the bad stack. Why do you like it so much? The young photographer said, Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.

A cabdriver sang his songs to me, in New York. Some we sang together. He had turned the meter off; he drove around midtown, singing. One long song he sang twice; it was the only dull one. I said, You already sang that one; let’s sing something else. And he said, You don’t know how long it took me to get that one together.

How many books do we read from which the writer lacked courage to tie off the umbilical cord? How many gifts do we open from which the writer neglected to remove the price tag? Is it pertinent, is it courteous, for us to learn what it cost the writer personally?

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 illumines the path just before its fragile tip. You probe with it, delicate as a worm.

Few sights are so absurd as that of an inchworm leading its dimwit life. Inchworms are the caterpillar larvae of several moths or butterflies. The cabbage looper, for example, is an inchworm. I often see an inchworm: it is a skinny bright green thing, pale and thin as a vein, an inch long, and apparently totally unfit for life in this world. It wears out its days in constant panic.

Every inchworm I have seen was stuck in long

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Reviews

What people think about The Writing Life

4.2
69 ratings / 24 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    This book caught me by surprise by how much I enjoyed it. I'm no "writer". I have no craft and don't claim any or expect to gain any in the future. I feared that the slender volume might either be: (A) a tediously boring how-to book, filled with rules, like "Always have fresh typewriter ribbon" or "Use only #3 pencils", or (B) mind-numbingly esoteric and touchy-feely in reaching writing nirvana. Amazingly and beautifully so, it was neither. One could argue that the book is not so much a treatise on writing but a collection of essays, but it felt very, very connected to me. Early sections could be described as a bit "how-to", or more precisely, how-it-is, to write, that is, seriously write, and, if the author is to be believed, it's quite painful. But then, later sections belie that impression in remarkably vivid ways. I was especially impressed by a story the author relates about being told a story by another writer, involving rowing a boat in waters in which I have actually kayaked in myself. Touching on something I was so familiar with helped draw me in, but the point made by the story was 100% spot on for making its point. This slim work is very much worth the time for anyone who thrives on good writing.
  • (4/5)
    Anecdotal journey of a writer's career. Introspective and illuminates some of the biggest difficulties a dedicated writer has to overcome. Good insights to think about for beginning or struggling writers.
  • (5/5)
    A book that makes me think and smile on every page. My first read from this author that has me searching for more. Language that inspires thought and words that inspire action. Delightful! I'll be back!
  • (4/5)
    My experience with NaNoWriMo this year reminded me of high school and, oddly enough, reading The Writing Life reminded me of NaNoWriMo. It's not mutual, however; this book only reminded me of high school in the sense that I could imagine being required to read and analyze it on a high school level. Maybe it's because Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and An American Childhood are both reading list titles here (though I was never required to read them), but I still found myself picking out phrases here and there that in my brain sounded like the clanking and clinking of doing dishes. Those were the sort of wincing noises I hear now while reading phrases and excerpts that "discussion" questions would have been based on. (They were never really discussion questions, were they? You could answer them quite simply in 2-3 sentences and being that they had right or wrong answers, there wasn't much to discuss once someone got them right.)NaNoWriMo reminded me of high school primarily because of this excerpt on pages 70-71:Hemingway studied, as models, the novels of Knut Hamsun and Ivan Turgenev. Isaac Bashevis Singer, as it happened, also chose Hansun and Turgenev as models. Ralph Ellison studied Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Thoreau loved Homer; Eudora Welty loved Chekhov. Faulkner described his debt to Sherwood Anderson and Joyce; E. M. Forster, his debt to Jane Austen and Proust. By contrast, if you ask a twenty-one-year-old poet whose poetry he likes, he might say, unblushing, "Nobody's." In his youth, he has not yet understood that poets like poetry, and novelists like novels; he himself likes only the role, the thought of himself in a hat. Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Gauguin, possessed, I believe, powerful hearts, not powerful wills. They loved the range of materials they used. The work's possibilities excited them; the field's complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and then loved them. They worked, respectfully, out of their love and knowledge, and they produced complex bodies of work that endure. Then, and only then, the world flapped at them some sort of hat, which, if they were still living, they ignored as well as they could, to keep at their tasks.It's not that I don't think anyone at NaNoWriMo is a real writer; it's more that the majority of the people I conversed with during my time at the forums weren't. This was their first foray into writing and they believed themselves to be absolutely brilliant. Had they read anything in the past year? No, just magazine articles on pop celebrities. It's the idea that people only write to wear "the hat," to take the role, to call themselves "an author" after they've spit out a load of filler material to make a certain word count. It's that people think writing a novel within a month is enough, that they'll get published immediately even sometimes without editing. Falling in love with the first draft never gets anyone anywhere. Most final drafts only slightly resemble first drafts. That's how it should be, but the "twenty-one-year-old poet" who likes "Nobody's" poetry ruined the whole experience for me. That's not to say that I discourage people from writing for the first time, nor do I discourage anyone from striving to make a great work of writing even if it's their first time. This is why I've fallen in love with NaNoWriMo: because even if you have no experience with it, the community strives to encourage you to reach your goal. Some people might get high-hatted believing only in their brilliance and their certain success, but the world outside of NaNoWriMo is full of people who think they're more important than they are. It's one of those "double-edged swords" that people talk about, like the argument that Oprah's book club is awful in the mind of a reader of literature, because no one would have read One Hundred Years of Solitude were it not for her choice. However, at the same time, it's so wonderful that the book is getting exposure, that it's being read, because (supposedly) it's a wonderful book! It's the people who have that Tshirt that says "I listen to bands that don't exist yet." People who, for some reason, feel that these things are personally theirs and belong to their group; they are threatened when "outsiders"* take interest in their things. *"Outsiders" being housewives, new writers, younger generations, whatever. It's not something that is easily explained away. I don't know why people do this. I don't know why "I knew about them before you did" is such an important statement to make. I don't know why it bothers me that people who complete a NaNoWriMo novel then feel like they can walk around calling themselves authors, saying that their brilliant work is going to get published immediately because it embodies perfection. And I can't say whether it bugs me more that they haven't read a book for pleasure in their life, or that they are trying to take something that I've worked very hard for.USA Today's review on the back of this book says that "You want to copy out what it says, tape it to your typewriter, fix it with a heavy magnet to your fridge. Her words give courage." It is that courage that makes this book remind me of NaNoWriMo. The positives. I've moved away from the loop of wondering why something I seek to encourage bothers me. Pages 78-79: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 in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. 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.After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: "Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time."This should be the slogan over at Nanowrimo.org. Everyone should have this in mind when they write. NaNoWriMo is about getting the words out, letting the ideas hit the paper (or screen, as it were), about pushing yourself to write that masterpiece you've been putting off because of "lack of time" or "slim motivation." Annie Dillard encourages the same thing. Make a schedule and get it all out. You'll have to breathe, you'll have to eat and sleep and maybe take walks, but when you're not doing those things, let the words go.It's uninspiring to me to read books detailing a "writer's life." Usually they involve agents, publishers, problems with copyeditors and book cover designers. I find it uninteresting because it doesn't apply to my life. Annie Dillard's Writing Life, however, doesn't include much if any of that. It's about what keeps her going, what things have inspired her, what are the frustrations and distractions that all writers face. It's inspiring to me because there is a whole chapter dedicated to watching an airplane pilot spin circles in the air and finding the beauty in the lines that he creates; there is nothing about the life of an already published author. It's universal.I would like to acquire two copies of this book so I can snip passages from the pages and stick them around my apartment. I might end up with the whole book on my walls.
  • (4/5)
    Dillard is spare, thoughtful and truthful.
  • (5/5)
    A powerful mediation of the anguish and joy of writing. Highly recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Annie Dillard is a treasure and this book is doubly so.
  • (5/5)
    This is a gift of a little book. I find more inspiration in these small number of pages than in almost any other book I’ve read. At least once a year I come back and re-read what Dillard has to say— more often, if times feel tough.
  • (2/5)
    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 inordinate amount of time doing anything to avoid writing Dillard seemed to spend most of her time avoiding writing about writing, and if that was not annoying enough - I wanted the good stuff - the time she did spend on the writing life was so depressing that if I was reading this book in hopes of becoming a writer I'd have probably gone a slit my wrists. What a complete waste of time this book was.

  • (4/5)
    Fast-moving and graceful, this is worth reading for any writer or artist. Dillard's meditations on her own way of life, and on the choices involved with living as a writer, are so insightful as to push readers toward examining their own choices and paths. With her humor and honesty, the book ends up being full of revelations and humor.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    Dillard's little lightning storm of a book can be summarized so: the writing life isn't very romantic. Writing is a quiet act. The writer spends a lot of time alone, a unreliable imagination and half-realized characters the writer's only company; the diligent writer spends a lot of time obsessing about sentences, as well as obsessing about obsessions; the writer arranges the proper order of things in a useless imaginative world. Ultimately, no one cares about what the writer finally produces or publishes, except perhaps the writers's mother.

    And if you want to be of use to the world, become a teacher, fireman, minister. Become a ferry boat operator. Don't write.



  • (3/5)
    Annie Dillard is a brilliant writer, but this book -- a collection of meditations on writing -- meanders around her writing career, sometimes stopping for a minute or two to kick at the dirt.

    Sprinkled throughout are stories about other writers and adventurers, and while some sparkle, others feel forced, left to dangle.

    The Writing Life is not a how-to manual or a bulleted list of pointers for young writers (no one said it was) -- and it's clearly the kind of meditation that invites the writer to wander -- but while the prose is sometimes beautiful and the glimpses into her life are interesting, The Writing Life ultimately feels unfocused.

    It's a thin book and because it's written by Annie Dillard the prose is at times breathtaking, but it doesn't reach the level of a book that will find a permanent place on my shelf.
  • (5/5)
    Annie Dillard does not glamorise the writing life. She tells it as it is - mostly hard work, occasional high flying. Many of the metaphors and little stories she tells to describe the life of a writer are amusing, but hit hard at any romantic notions about writing. The cameo story she tells of an inchworm climbing one blade of grass after another, searching frantically for the next step at the top of each blade, resonated with me. Hammering together lines of words, probing ideas, keeping the whole thing together never gets easier. We just keep blindly on, climbing the blade, searching for the next, leaping into the void in faith. So often we write into the dark. Even long-published, feted writers like Annie Dillard, fear that no one reads them, except maybe nerds, academics, or other writers in the same field. Once, after publishing a long and complex essay partly concerning a moth and a candle, she thought that no one but an academic critic had understood it, or even read it. Some little boys came to the door as she was despairing about her wasted life. One of the children noticed a picture of a candle and asked if that was the one that the moth had flown into. Annie was bowled over. A child had heard the story and understood it well enough to tell it back. Such incidents lighten the solitude of writing and make the grind worthwhile. I highly recommend this small book to any writer or aspiring writer. It is full of pearls of wisdom and Annie Dillard parables. It encourages even as it sweeps the rose-coloured glasses onto the floor.
  • (1/5)
    I thought this was dreadful, 110 pages of navel watching, embellished with self indulgent poetic musings. Others have found it spiritual, sensitive and lucid. I thought it was a real yawn.
  • (5/5)
    I read this book ages ago, and its quiet simplicity makes it one I return to again and again. If you like reading and writing, this slim volume will surprise and please you to no end.Here is an example of Dillard’s delightful style: “Why would anyone read a book instead of watching big people move on a screen? Because a book can be literature. It is a subtle thing – a poor thing, but our own. In my view, the more literary the book -- the more purely verbal, crafted sentence by sentence, the more imaginative, reasoned, and deep – the more likely people are to read it. The people who read are the people who like literature, after all, whatever that might be. They like, or require, what books alone have” (19).You need this book. You need to sit down some quiet afternoon and read it. Then, keep it close by and read it again when the fancy strikes you! 5 stars--Jim, 11/24/09
  • (1/5)
    This is a group of short essays more or less about life while writing (well, except for the last chapter, which is entirely about a stunt pilot). While I usually find books around writing inspiring and informative, this slim volume did nothing for me. The author spends a lot of time describing the agony and tedium of writing right after saying that the amount of work put into a book is irrelevant to its quality. Some of the language was kind of pretty, but in general it felt disjointed and self-serving, like reading an amatuer's blog.
  • (5/5)
    I remember loving this, but I have absolutely no memory of it except something about staring at a brick wall.
  • (4/5)
    My experience with NaNoWriMo this year reminded me of high school and, oddly enough, reading The Writing Life reminded me of NaNoWriMo. It's not mutual, however; this book only reminded me of high school in the sense that I could imagine being required to read and analyze it on a high school level. Maybe it's because Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and An American Childhood are both reading list titles here (though I was never required to read them), but I still found myself picking out phrases here and there that in my brain sounded like the clanking and clinking of doing dishes. Those were the sort of wincing noises I hear now while reading phrases and excerpts that "discussion" questions would have been based on. (They were never really discussion questions, were they? You could answer them quite simply in 2-3 sentences and being that they had right or wrong answers, there wasn't much to discuss once someone got them right.)NaNoWriMo reminded me of high school primarily because of this excerpt on pages 70-71:Hemingway studied, as models, the novels of Knut Hamsun and Ivan Turgenev. Isaac Bashevis Singer, as it happened, also chose Hansun and Turgenev as models. Ralph Ellison studied Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Thoreau loved Homer; Eudora Welty loved Chekhov. Faulkner described his debt to Sherwood Anderson and Joyce; E. M. Forster, his debt to Jane Austen and Proust. By contrast, if you ask a twenty-one-year-old poet whose poetry he likes, he might say, unblushing, "Nobody's." In his youth, he has not yet understood that poets like poetry, and novelists like novels; he himself likes only the role, the thought of himself in a hat. Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Gauguin, possessed, I believe, powerful hearts, not powerful wills. They loved the range of materials they used. The work's possibilities excited them; the field's complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and then loved them. They worked, respectfully, out of their love and knowledge, and they produced complex bodies of work that endure. Then, and only then, the world flapped at them some sort of hat, which, if they were still living, they ignored as well as they could, to keep at their tasks.It's not that I don't think anyone at NaNoWriMo is a real writer; it's more that the majority of the people I conversed with during my time at the forums weren't. This was their first foray into writing and they believed themselves to be absolutely brilliant. Had they read anything in the past year? No, just magazine articles on pop celebrities. It's the idea that people only write to wear "the hat," to take the role, to call themselves "an author" after they've spit out a load of filler material to make a certain word count. It's that people think writing a novel within a month is enough, that they'll get published immediately even sometimes without editing. Falling in love with the first draft never gets anyone anywhere. Most final drafts only slightly resemble first drafts. That's how it should be, but the "twenty-one-year-old poet" who likes "Nobody's" poetry ruined the whole experience for me. That's not to say that I discourage people from writing for the first time, nor do I discourage anyone from striving to make a great work of writing even if it's their first time. This is why I've fallen in love with NaNoWriMo: because even if you have no experience with it, the community strives to encourage you to reach your goal. Some people might get high-hatted believing only in their brilliance and their certain success, but the world outside of NaNoWriMo is full of people who think they're more important than they are. It's one of those "double-edged swords" that people talk about, like the argument that Oprah's book club is awful in the mind of a reader of literature, because no one would have read One Hundred Years of Solitude were it not for her choice. However, at the same time, it's so wonderful that the book is getting exposure, that it's being read, because (supposedly) it's a wonderful book! It's the people who have that Tshirt that says "I listen to bands that don't exist yet." People who, for some reason, feel that these things are personally theirs and belong to their group; they are threatened when "outsiders"* take interest in their things. *"Outsiders" being housewives, new writers, younger generations, whatever. It's not something that is easily explained away. I don't know why people do this. I don't know why "I knew about them before you did" is such an important statement to make. I don't know why it bothers me that people who complete a NaNoWriMo novel then feel like they can walk around calling themselves authors, saying that their brilliant work is going to get published immediately because it embodies perfection. And I can't say whether it bugs me more that they haven't read a book for pleasure in their life, or that they are trying to take something that I've worked very hard for.USA Today's review on the back of this book says that "You want to copy out what it says, tape it to your typewriter, fix it with a heavy magnet to your fridge. Her words give courage." It is that courage that makes this book remind me of NaNoWriMo. The positives. I've moved away from the loop of wondering why something I seek to encourage bothers me. Pages 78-79: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 in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. 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.After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: "Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time."This should be the slogan over at Nanowrimo.org. Everyone should have this in mind when they write. NaNoWriMo is about getting the words out, letting the ideas hit the paper (or screen, as it were), about pushing yourself to write that masterpiece you've been putting off because of "lack of time" or "slim motivation." Annie Dillard encourages the same thing. Make a schedule and get it all out. You'll have to breathe, you'll have to eat and sleep and maybe take walks, but when you're not doing those things, let the words go.It's uninspiring to me to read books detailing a "writer's life." Usually they involve agents, publishers, problems with copyeditors and book cover designers. I find it uninteresting because it doesn't apply to my life. Annie Dillard's Writing Life, however, doesn't include much if any of that. It's about what keeps her going, what things have inspired her, what are the frustrations and distractions that all writers face. It's inspiring to me because there is a whole chapter dedicated to watching an airplane pilot spin circles in the air and finding the beauty in the lines that he creates; there is nothing about the life of an already published author. It's universal.I would like to acquire two copies of this book so I can snip passages from the pages and stick them around my apartment. I might end up with the whole book on my walls.
  • (5/5)
    The work of writing, examined in lyrical, sophisticated prose.
  • (4/5)
    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. I have been a writer of technical material most of my life and I wanted to look at non-technical writing. This little book was not what I was looking for at the time, but it is definitely inspirational in unexpected ways.The book seemed to be unstructured, even though it is. The ideas within each chapter leads nicely into one another and it tells Annie Dillards story of what she fights with daily as a writer and what joys she finds in writing, the joys which continues to propel her onward at her craft. I enjoyed the book thoroughly even though I stumbled onto it by accident. Ms Dillard kind of gave me a "hang in there, I've been there too.." feeling, which is always comforting. She also uses some incredible writing to convey her experience. So you can look at the book on many levels, as a very nice work of writing, as an advice book, and as an enjoyable read.