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The Writing Life: Writers On How They Think And Work Paperback – May 8, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Arana instituted the "Writing Life" column at the Washington Post Book World in 1993 shortly after assuming the editorial reins, and she collates here articles from several top names she's enlisted as contributors over the past decade. Her lavish introductions sometimes run nearly as long as the essays; after the buildup she provides Stanley Elkin, though, his vacuous rambling is a severe disappointment. There are other notable clunkers: James Michener recalls banal advice he has given aspiring writers, while Joanna Trollope's essay, though excellently written, says little more than that creative writing courses might be able to teach writing, but they can't teach creativity. But the best contributions make slogging through the worst worthwhile. Some of the better stories are already well known: Ray Bradbury's account of how he came to write the screenplay for Moby-Dick, for example, or Donald E. Westlake's story of the creation of the pseudonym Richard Stark for his hard-boiled novels. But there are new treasures to discover as well. Jane Smiley discusses why she disavows her most famous novel, A Thousand Acres: "I am no longer attracted to the dire mechanism of tragedy," while Julian Barnes turns in a droll account of his experience as literary executor for close friend Dodie Smith. Though some of the authors do pass on practical wisdom to would-be writers, this collection is ideally suited for those who want to enjoy the "literary life" vicariously.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

From Mary Higgins Clark to David Halberstam, 55 writers talk about where they get their ideas and how they make them into books. Some of the voices are flat, betraying the authors' discomfort with speaking publicly on matters of private inspiration. With others, there's a different problem: they've done this kind of thing so often they have little new to say. But many are brilliant. Julia Alvarez tells how she found her Latino voice when she read Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior (1976). Anita Desai writes movingly about being "bicultural, adrift, and wandering." Ray Bradbury is exuberant about the inspiration he finds in movies, Shakespeare, and Melville. The essays first appeared in the Washington Post Book World over the last 10 years, and best of all are editor Marie Arana's introductions. Sometimes better than the writers' self-conscious pieces, her lively, highly readable, fairly lengthy bios capture each subject's essence and make you want to read their books. Keep this on hand for book discussion groups. Hazel Rochman
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 426 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (May 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586481495
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586481490
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Kirk McElhearn VINE VOICE on March 27, 2004
Format: Paperback
This selection of pieces that originally appeared in the Washington Post is a mixed bag - some of the articles are about the writing process, others about becoming a writer, but many of them are inspirational, and will help any writer feel more comfortable about what they strive to achieve. The selection of authors is eclectic, so no matter what type of writing interests you, you'll find something that fits your style.
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Over the years, I've read 'The Writing Life' segment found in many a Washington Post "Book World" section. Last spring, a writing instructor assigned Arana's collection of these articles for our outside class reading. I was pleased to find many of the articles I had previously enjoyed plus plenty I had not read combined in one volume, thus allowing me to purge the accordian file folder where I store such items.

Arana has selected some of the best pieces for her volume, and prefaced each with a short introduction of the author. In some cases I reread segments by favorite authors, and in other cases I had never read the author.

One author I've been meaning to try is Barbara Mertz. Haven't heard of her? She writes under the pen name Elizabeth Peters, and is the author of the the tales of the exploits of Amelia Peabody-Emerson, archeologist and sleuth. Now, I had thought about reading Peters, but had not done so because I have been trying to curb a hopeless addiction to mysteries and force myself to read things that "improved my mind." Peters, i.e. Mertz, says at age 60, she figures her mind "is about as good as it's going to get" and that statement and others she wrote made me laugh. Being from a long line of folks suffering from a bad case of the "Protestant ethic" I've always needed permission to have fun, and now that I am 63 I have it.

I read my first Peters novel (reviewed elsewhere) and ordered 6-7 more. Is this frivoluous, you bet. Will I keep it up, Hopefully!!
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I agree that one can find writing inspiration in these pages. Studying the mechanics and practices of other writers is always enjoyable and enlightening. Sometimes one can find tricks and short cuts to emulate which then enhance one's own work, and that is certainly the case with The Writing Life. The problem that I had with it is due to its selection bias. In my opinion, it chronicled far too many journalists as opposed to outstanding writers. Many of the individuals are not people one considers to be luminaries at all. I picked up The Paris Review's Interviews book which is more satisfying in this regard. Obviously though, this text isn't devoid of value, but it depends on what you wish to use it for.
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This is an excellent compilation of writers and a bit of their story. I know that other reviewer's recommended this book for writers, but Ido not consider myself a writer in professional terms, and I still found it facinating.

Arana provides a backhistory of each writer introducing them, and then each author tells some aspect of how they handle the writing life. I enjoy being able to get "behind the scenes" and understand how a writer approaches their day...where they write, do they use a computer, etc. As she says in her introduction, she invited "seasoned writers to mull the craft" of their writing.
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Arana bundles a life tapestry of professional experience, formal education, and school of hard knocks, in a motif of a writer's existence. This work is much more than just a mere compilation of WP Book World excerpts. Clearly, significant thought was devoted to the selection of her WP articles along with fundamentally pragmatic insights that are certain to be invaluable to anyone interested in the profession of writing or editing.
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Read this book a while ago. Enjoyed very much. Love the writing mind. The articles are diverse. It was a pleasant surprise to find each writer offering something quite different about the writing experience. Possibly one or a few did not grab my full interest, but that small distraction is negligible and probably due to my own deficiency.
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By Taryn on November 20, 2012
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This book was in great condition and it was listed at a really affordable price. I needed this for a college writing course. It had great writing exercises that helped me a lot. It's a great purchase if you want to warm yourself up before writing a big creative paper. Perfect!
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I love reading other authors' takes on "the writing life" and how they cope with or find inspiration from daily life to continue nurturing their creativity, motivation, and changing goals. This book surprised me with an extremely varied mix of writing advice and insight.

From dealing with publishers and the importance of self-marketing to dealing with the slack you get for your chosen genre not being as academically accepted or how to maintain a personal life along with your career...the authors in this collection cover it all. There's enough here to touch on any aspect of writing you may be dealing with or thinking about and will, no doubt, include many surprises you haven't realized you do need more information about.

Reading the collection introduced me to new authors, some with writing styles I fell in love with and intend to read more from, and made me think about so many aspects of the art of writing that I've since realized keys for improving my own novel and new directions I want to go in in my own career.

This is the perfect gift for any writer you know...even if you have no idea what their own writing style or interests are. You'll make a better writer of them.
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