Quotes from The Writing Life

Annie Dillard ·  113 pages

Rating: (10.7K votes)


“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“One of the 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.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“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.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading -- that is a good life.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life



“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as a dying friend. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. A net for catching days.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“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?”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and with that one, is what we are doing.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life



“One of the 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.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from 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. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, "Simba!”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“Admire the world for never ending on you -- as you would an opponent, without taking your eyes away from him, or walking away.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life



“Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“I cannot imagine a sorrier pursuit than struggling for years to write a book that attempts to appeal to people who do not read in the first place.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“The written word is weak. Many people prefer life to it. Life gets your blood going, & it smells good. Writing is mere writing, literature is mere. It appeals only to the subtlest senses—the imagination’s vision, & the imagination’s hearing—& the moral sense, & the intellect. This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks & exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“The reader's ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word. An ordinary reader picking up a book can't yet hear a thing; it will take half an hour to pick up the writing's modulations, its ups and downs and louds and softs.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life



“There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress & its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, & the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“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 in midair.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment. "The most demanding part of living a lifetimes as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one's own most intimate sensitivity." Anne Truitt, the sculptor, said this. Thoreau said it another way: know your own bone. "Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life....Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our heats? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life



“Society places the writer so far beyond the pale that society does not regard the writer at all.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“So it is that a writer writes many books. In each book, he intended several urgent and vivid points, many of which he sacrificed as the book's form hardened.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“He is careful of what he reads, for this is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, as this is what he will know.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life


“We still & always want waking.”
― Annie Dillard, quote from The Writing Life



About the author

Annie Dillard
Born place: in Pittsburgh, PA, The United States
Born date April 30, 1945
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