Book Category: Creative, Writing,

The Writing Life (book summary)

Author: Annie Dillard
Life Changing Principles
Quality of Writing
Overall Value
pros: Beautifully written, inspiring
cons: Narrative heavy
overall rating


Annie Dillard combines memoir with loose threads of advice for writers on how to become more diligent and less self-berating. It reminded us a lot of Stephen King’s book, On Writing, in that it comes from a place of advice from an already successful writer with a large readership. (In this case, a very literary one read mostly by university students).

This book is beautifully written, but also filled with some good “make you feel better” stories about why to keep pushing on even when it’s bleak, how to set up your writing room properly, and where to find fresh inspiration.


  • Writers work best by creating consistent routines for themselves, even if the routine is vastly different
  • If you come across a difficult place in your writing, don’t try to press forward, go backwards and find where the flaw lies that brought you to the impasse.
  • Don’t create aggressive goals for your writing, but instead plan to inch forward with the best possible quality of writing that you can.  


  • When you work, eliminate distractions: even if it means closing the window to the nice outdoors. You’ll have the most room to stretch your imagination when it’s not wandering away out the window.
  • Work slower! There is no shame in writing slower, taking longer to come up with ideas, and taking more time to edit.
  • If you get stuck, get physical. Take a walk.


Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw away work. If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable.

How many books do we read from which the writer lacked courage to tie off the umbilical cords? How many gifts do we open from which the writer neglected to remove the price tag? Is it pertinent, is it courageous, for us to learn what it cost the writer personally?

When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it; then the trouble is either of two things. Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split it up the middle–or you are approaching a fatal mistake.

Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk midair.

Writers might well stop berating themselves for writing at a normal, slow pace.

The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitos to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.

Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark.

I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.

People love pretty much the same things best. A writer looking for subject inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all.