“The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

Dillard is a great writer, but I did not have the patience to enjoy or appreciate her little book on writing. I snatched Dillard’s book from the Barnes & Noble shelves because I heard of her before and I wanted to know what she had to say on writing.

I was excited to begin Dillard’s book since I’m often told how great she is. I thought that she would share some tips on how she got to be considered great. She does this, kind of, by using little anecdotes that highlight a certain quality that writers should have, or to give advice on the writing life. This is great but I would appreciate it more if I wasn’t impatient while reading.

I could not tolerate Dillard’s slow tread to get to the point. To me, some of the anecdotes go around in circles, like the loops Dave Rahm makes in his air show, before finally getting to the message. This pissed me off. By the way, I simply do not get why so many pages were spent discussing Dave Rahm. Of course, I liked it when Dillard got to the point straight away – “Write as if you were dying” – and then explain what she means or give the anecdote after stating the point.

I also couldn’t stand the weather in this book. It’s cold. Most of the book is spent discussing Dillard’s experience writing in a cold cabin in some woods. I have no idea how she made it through that. I abhor the cold though I live in a cold place and I cannot fathom writing while I froze. The weather turned me off.

Still, a part of me appreciates this book and has fallen in love with Dillard’s style and her descriptions of things and the way she sews the lesson into the seam of the anecdotes. It’s a small part of me but it greatly influences the rest of myself so I did not dash aside the book when impatience slowly tried to rule.

I will read this book again at a time when I can relax and appreciate the way Dillard crafted it. At a time when I can truly appreciate Dillard’s use of language and will not be put off by the pages spent discussing Dave Rahm. I will understand why she spent such a long time discussing him when I’m not trying to rush through the book,.

This one is not for a novice: someone who’s just entering the battle. This is for those who’ve been there a bit and need some insight or guidance. Dillard does make some great points and is funny in a dry sort of way.

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“The Way In: Journal Writing for Self-Discovery” by Rita D. Jacobs

Cover of "The Way In: Journal Writing for...
Cover via Amazon

If like me you love to read books on writing in order to motivate yourself to write or if like me you like to read books on writing to get ideas of what and how to write or if like me you like to read books on writing just for the hell of it, then this little book is one you should pick up.

I have many journals (mainly because the attractive covers lure me into buying them so I’m almost always starting afresh in a new book) and usually I just write in them whenever I feel like and write about whatever I feel like at the moment. Most times I think I treat them like a diary – writing about all the things I did in a particular day. Other times I think I treat them as they ought to – writing about what I’ve observed on a particular day. My idea of a journal is a book where a person documents her observations of people, places, things, and ideas.

According to Jacobs, a journal is a place where all these things are documented and much more. To prove this to us, she opens with excerpts of journal entries, showing us how writers have used the journal in their daily lives. She also talks about whether or not there is a difference between a journal and a diary. Like any writing book, Jacobs also covers when to write, how often to write, and what to write. Basically, that’s all up to the writer. You decide when, how, or what.

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Books on Writing, or—about Literature: Anne Lamott, Kevin J. Hayes, Dorothea Brande

“…good writing is about telling the truth.”

I have an annoying habit of immersing myself in books on literature and writing when I want to make myself commit to writing. It’s a trap I always fall into since I hardly notice when it occurs. It sneaks up on me and gradually distracts me from my self-appointed assignment until I totally give up on it and instead gorge on literature and writing books. Such was the case recently when I decided to read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, A Journey through American Literature by Kevin J. Hayes, and Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.

The way this habit of mine begins is by whispering to me that since I need to improve my talent before attempting to write, I must first do some research. After all, research always helps to point a person in the right direction. I find this statement to be true so I go along with the suggestion. I began with Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

“Not enough!” my devilish habit exclaimed. So I went ahead and began reading Hayes’ A Journey through American Literature. My habit was appeased for the moment.

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“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read. I’ve watched many of his movies on SyFy since I was a little girl and they scared the shit out of me so I decided not to read his books. If the movies are scary, then the books would be worse. My imagination would haunt me, I feared. Because I want to be a writer, and since I’ve heard and read great reviews about this book, I decided to give it a try.

King said that he would keep this one short and to the point. He did. He opened with a short memoir of his life, touching on those events that contributed to his writing and his development as a writer. He then included a brief section on developing a “writer’s toolbox,” which led to another section that discusses writing – how to start, continue, and develop your writing.

King’s answer to these questions is to write, and keep writing, and to read.

Great advice. I find it a bit intimidating. I always go into my scheduled writing sessions intimidated and clam up. I sit and stare at a blank page or screen because I can think of nothing good to write. But the important thing to do is write. So now, after reading this book, I’ve decided to write until something good comes out. If I don’t think it’s good today, it’s possible that I might think it’s great tomorrow.

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“Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace” by Joseph M. Williams

Cover of "Style: The Basics of Clarity an...
Cover via Amazon

In my short lifetime of 23 or 24 years, I’ve read various grammar books and booklets but this is the first that I’ve encountered one that is easy to read, understand, and even enjoy. Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams was a joy to read. I could hardly put it down at times. The language was clear and his examples and explanations were easy to follow and comprehend. The only problem that I encountered while reading this booklet was a personal one, which was trying to commit all the tips to memory and employ them in my own writing. But such a thing is difficult to do and requires practice.

It takes a lot of practice to be a great writer. According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, a person becomes an expert at their selected art/study when she has worked at it for 10 years (I forgot the total hours that equals to). I guess that’s why academia requires of us to spend 10 years dedicated to the study of our chosen field in order to be considered a master (doctorate, whatever): 4 years of undergrad, 2 years of graduate studies (sometimes), 2 years of practice in the field, 2 years for postdoctorate studies (something like that). Since I’ve been reading, writing, and editing consistently from I was a wee lass, and have spent 4 years studying English as my major, I do believe that my moment of genius in the field is right around the corner, despite whatever errors in grammar I might or might not make while writing these blogs. Not once have I faltered on my daily regimen of reading and writing. I am, therefore, a literary genius in the making.

Big smile 😀

Williams’ little book is not only for writers, but for readers as well. I am a believer that readers will gain as much insight as writers if they should read a grammar book and Style proved this to be true. In Style, Williams takes us through various lessons by using the technique of “close reading”: reading between the lines; considering what is implied by what the author does or doesn’t say. Also, a grammar book helps readers by causing them to consider the language the author uses and how he employs it in his work.

All around, Style is a great grammar book that all (students, writers, readers, and children of the technology-era) should read.