The Writing Life

Book Card  -  Volume 12  -  Book Review Number 1  -  Thu, Jan 4, 1990 11:59 PM

TITLE: The Writing Life
AUTHOR: Annie Dillard
PUBLISHER: Harper & Row

If anyone in the world today is qualified to write about "The Writing Life", it's probably Annie Dillard. This is the woman who received the Pulitzer Prize for her first prose work way back around 1974, and who has been cranking out a first-rate book every year or two ever since.

Annie Dillard started out writing poetry. In a very real sense, she never stopped:

"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 in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year."

This is how "A Writer's Life" begins, and if you don't like that paragraph you shouldn't read the book, because it doesn't get much better. But you should also have your head examined, because this woman Knows How To Write. Opening the book to a random page will demonstrate my point:

"Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?"

A book about the writing process both directly (as above) and metaphorically, "The Writing Life" is also autobiographical - as are all of Annie Dillard's works.

I think my favorite Annie Dillard book is always the most recent, and this one is no exception. Probably, though, it's time for me to go back and reread all of the old material. One could hardly find a better way to spend one's time.

For the record, this is all of the old material:

  • An American Childhood
  • Encounters With Chinese Writers
  • Teaching A Stone To Talk
  • Living By Fiction
  • Holy The Firm
  • Pilgrim At Tinker Creek
  • Tickets For A Prayer Wheel