In this collection of short essays, Annie Dillard—the creator of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and An American Childhood—illuminates the dedication, absurdity, and daring that characterize the existence of a author. A moving account of Dillard’s own experience, The Writing Life offers deep insight into one of the mysterious professions.
Annie Dillard has spent numerous time in remote, bare-bones shelters doing something she claims to hate: writing. Slender though it is, The Writing Life richly conveys the torturous, tortuous, and in rare moments, transcendent existence of the author. Even for Dillard, whose prose is so mellifluous as to seem effortless, the act of writing can seem a Sisyphean task: “When you write,” she says, “you lay out a line of words…. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You’ll know the next day or this time next year.” Amid moving accounts of her own writing (and life) experiences, Dillard also manages to impart wisdom to other writers, wisdom having to do with passion and commitment and taking the work seriously. “Some 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…. Something more will arise for later, something better.” And, if that is not enough, “Assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients,” she says. “That is, finally, the case…. What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”
This all makes The Writing Life seem a dense, tough read, but that is not the case at all. Dillard is, finally, human, just like the rest of us. All the way through one particularly frantic moment, four cups of coffee and not much writing down, Dillard comes to a realization: “Many fine people were available in the market living, people whose consciences permitted them to sleep at night despite their not having written a decent sentence that day, or ever.” –Jane Steinberg