The Writing Life

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.

– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life


I recall being recommended books about writing when I first began to take writing seriously roughly fifteen years ago. These recommendations included works on story structure, guides by writers on how to write. I understand the sentiment, and appreciate it now through hindsight. The work I was producing at that time was immature, all over the place, but fueled by passion none the less. I attribute my current storytelling ability not to these instructive tomes that surely I would have been forced to read had grad school been a path I'd chosen to follow, but instead to the years I've spent writing. I learned how to write novels by writing novels, and it took penning a few terrible ones before I got the hang of properly shaping a story.

My advice to aspiring writers, to even skilled and educated writers, is to write. For you cannot call yourself something that you are not willing to actually be. But I would also advise you to read, and to be selective about the stories you let into your mind. For everything you absorb will influence you in one manner or another, and your standards will in turn be formed by those influences.

One of my favorite authors is Annie Dillard. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her non-fiction piece Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in 1975 at 29 years old. Her prose is poetic, mesmerizing, inspiring—it challenged me when I first read her work more than a decade ago, and though I have matured considerably as a writer, she continues to challenge me today.

It seems that, as a author, I am supposed to impart unto the world one specific work that I draw significance from so that others may glean their own wisdom. I find this task impossible, as there is no one book out there that can accurately sum up how to be a writer. But Dillard's The Writing Life will do. It is a short read (my copy is 111 pages), and is sure to resonate with any writer, no matter how long he or she has been practicing the craft.


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.
These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.
Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have

learned is not only shameful, it is destructive.
Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.
You open your safe and find ashes.

After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a
piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice,
in the handwriting of his old age:
"Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time."

– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life