Book review: ‘The Writing Life’ by Annie Dillard

The Writing Life

This book was not what I expected.

Having greatly enjoyed Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I was very much looking forward to reading her thoughts on the writing life—and maybe picking up a few handy writing tips.

It turns out there are very few writing tips in this book, which contains mostly descriptions of the difficulties of writing, interspersed with stuff that didn’t seem to be about writing at all.

Surprisingly, perhaps, I still rather enjoyed The Writing Life—especially the earlier chapters, which did at least talk about writing a bit. I particularly enjoyed Dillard describing how she only finds out what her latest book is about after she’s a good way into writing it. That sounds familiar. The closest I came to an actual writing tip was:

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.

A very enjoyable read—but definitely not a writing guide.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. He is currently working on a book about looking at the world through Darwin’s eyes.Website · Newsletter · Mastodon · Facebook

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