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The Writing Life Paperback – November 12, 2013
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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.
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."
Sheri Nelson Maclean, The Woodlands, Texas
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Unlike a how-to guide full of lectures and quick fixes, Dillard writes...Read more