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The Writing Life
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on August 13, 2015
I like to consider myself a writer. On the good days, that means I write, but mostly I fiddle around and tinker. I had hoped that Writing Life would be the silver bullet, all of a sudden I’d understand how to write, and the heavens would be opened and I’d sign six-figure book deals (this didn’t happen). Annie Dillard did a phenomenal job with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and she’s one of my favorite writers, so I figured I could do little better for a book on writing.

But rather than being a handbook on how to write, The Writing Life is a collection of stories accumulated during the writing of several books. Annie Dillard does not explain how to write books — she explains how to live a life in which you write, all day every day, and try to create with words on a page. There are few techniques here; rather, the book is filled with stories of how it feels to be stuck in a spot in the book (been there) and why the end product is never quite what we’d imagined starting out (felt that).

Mostly, The Writing Life tells you what to expect if you’re going to write books. It teaches you how to see stories with your eyes so that you can transfer them to your medium: the printed page. For me, it stirred a few deep thoughts, reminding me that I really couldn’t give up writing — and that’s what the writing life is. Closing the back page left me wanting to run and work on my writing from years ago. If you’re a writer — or wondering if you ought to keep trying to be a writer — The Writing Life will tell you.

Like any other of her books, Annie Dillard fills this one with many ridiculous stories and illustrations that capture her point. Her books are like a million sparks that fly up from a burning log: filled with many individual, unique stories. And here’s where the similarities to Pilgrim begin. Much like that book, the stories in The Writing Life made me want to follow in Dillard’s footsteps. This, I’d guess, is exactly why the book was written.

I’d recommend The Writing Life if you are looking at being a writer, are a writer, may someday be a writer, are married to a writer — if you’re at all connected to writing, you’ll enjoy the stories and message of this book. And if you’re not sure if you’re cut out to be a writer, give this a read: it’s only 120 pages. Maybe, like me, you’ll find out that you can’t not write.
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VINE VOICEon March 8, 2013
Although The Writing Life was not what I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I thought it was going to be full of advice, a how-to book about how to craft the perfect sentence, write believable dialogue, or "show, not tell," but instead the small volume was about Annie Dillard's daily life and her writing struggles.

A student of life in all forms (including moths and cats), Dillard illustrates that everything can be a subject worthy of writing about. How does she do it? Is there a secret? No. What she does is seclude herself from the world in places such as remote cabins and small rooms. It's a lonely life, often frustrating and aggravating. Once while working in an office on a university campus, Dillard kept the blinds closed to shut out the world. One night she kept hearing what she thought was a June bug hitting the window pane, and when she peeped behind the slats, she saw fireworks exploding and blossoming in the night sky. She had been so into her work that she had forgotten it was July 4th.

What I especially enjoyed about the book were the several stories about topics ranging from playing softball with young music prodigies to flying with an ace pilot. Every story has something relevant to the writing life. My favorite story was that of Paul Glenn when Dillard asked him how his work was going. Glenn told of a man who had been carried out to sea trying to bring a log in; despite the tides and currents, the man kept on rowing, just like Glenn kept on writing. Reading about the habits and inspiration of other writers was interesting too. Who knew that Eudora Welty loved Chekhov?

As a would-be writer who sometimes finds herself doubting whether people would be interested in reading what she has learned, I was encouraged by Dillard's comment, "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."
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on June 25, 2013
I have read many books now about writing and "how to" be a writer, but until I read Annie Dillard's "The Writing Life', I had never encountered one in which the writing itself was so well and beautifully crafted that a single sentence would often stop me dead in my tracks, so that I would stop to read one sentence over again. And then again, marveling at its perfection. This book, for me, is not so much a "how to" book as it is a glimpse into what it is to be a writer, how to live and order one's life and to think like a writer, to look closely at the world and to be endlessly curious about all of its mysteries and curiosities and idiosyncrasies. "The Writer's Life" also prompted me to immediately add Annie Dillard to the top of my list of favorite American writers, and promptly order the rest of her books, all of which are not only delightful, but utterly unique. I have been giving them to all my friends who hasn't read her. Highly recommend.
Sheri Nelson Maclean, The Woodlands, Texas
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on February 13, 2018
Beautiful writing but I thought it would be more of a guide for writers. Basically, it's just about her writing "life" not her writing, ie we get to hear about how much coffee she drinks, the June bugs that try to get in her window, the oyster fishermen she watches from her window, the moth she once saw drown, the library she goes to and the chess game she played, the wood she chopped, etc and so on. Nothing much here for a writer looking for either advice or commiseration on writing. At least not by 40% in when I got frustrated and abandoned it.
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What I noticed when reading The Writing Life was how much Annie Dillard stretches for her literary artistry. Searching for the most expressive concept for every word in every sentence is grueling work. I try my best as a writer, but looming deadlines and my annoying hobby of not quitting my day job tend to downplay my searches to words that will just get the job done. Edits and rewrites help to bring up the quality, but not to the level of an Annie Dillard..

I admire the author's strength of conviction in her professionalism as a writer; going to great lengths in creating writing spaces and scrutinizing vistas and objects to glean crisp and sparkling descriptions. Her philosophical considerations might border on the extreme to non-writers. To me, it's "old home week." When someone is aiming for perfection, whether it be in writing about writing or in competing for the gold in an Olympic event, the reader (or bystander) can't help but share some of the angst.

Sharing the angst while reading this book, I was imagining what it would be like to be crafting this work for an audience of writers - verbal athletes themselves who would be judging the work for its gold medal potential. Glad that it was Annie Dillard who took on this challenge of portraying the depths of her writer-self, I give her five stars as my Gold Medal tribute.
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on January 5, 2014
Reading about the life of writing is a search for a muse, a hunt for some artistic stimulation that sends you to your own writing. The Writing Life is like following Dillard around, watching her discover new muses and fight through droughts of non-writing. She keeps you around as a conversation partner, though you don't have much to say. But this doesn't bother her.

In a way: A muse igniter is what this book is. You're brought into the writing lab (wherever that may be) and allowed to read a master's process. As she works, you feel something within yourself turning over. Like being in the presence of someone quite creative and seeing their creativity create something ex nihilo within you soul, this book is your chance to be the fly on the wall.

Add to this, Dillard is just fun to read - a genius at expressing the uninhibited, real human experience.
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on June 11, 2016
In The Writing Life Annie Dillard has shared a glimpse into what it is to be a writer. She doesn't share how-to tips or exercises, instead she shares what it means to write and live a life where writing is your goal and your passion. She provides encouragement, and maybe a little bit of discouragement, to aspiring writers. This is one of my favourite writing books, mostly because she is so honest and real.
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on November 29, 2016
She romps and revels, twists and engages. The window into how she sees the world is priceless. I will always think of her, writing alone in a freezing shack, on the shore of a tiny island in a cold sea, whenever I think about what it means to be a dedicated writer.
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on September 26, 2017
The author elevates so much so very dramatically. It became a bit too much for me, however, dropped in between these heavily felt indulgences are blessings of sentences that help a writer feel not alone.
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on August 12, 2016
An excellent read. I had read this book many years ago and when I saw it on Amazon recently felt I had to read it again and add it to my own library. It's a classic.
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