Annie Dillard wrote a book for writers that arrived in my mail a few weeks ago. 

A supportive friend sent it to me as congratulations on giving full-time writing a go.

The book’s called The Writing Life. It’s a collection of anecdotes and insights about what it means to write and be a writer. 

Copy of The Writing Life, a book by Annie Dillard

The Writing Life isn’t a handbook on how to write. It’s more a documentation of what it means to be a writer. It’s a marvelous little book, humorous, entertaining, and inspiring.

Reading it, a writer finds themselves nodding their head as Dillard dissects writing and the writer’s life. 

You should get a copy of the book if you’re a writer. Or, if you have a writer in your life, your relationship with that person could benefit from you reading The Writing Life as well.

Below are some excerpts from the book that shined most true to me. These passages are a tiny dose of the beauty that awaits you when you read The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (paid link).

Amazing Annie Dillard Quotes on Writing

“Writing every book, the writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it?”

“At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.”

“On plenty of days the writer can write three or four pages, and on plenty of other days he concludes he must throw them away.”

“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.”

“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.”

“It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby-Dick. So you might as well write Moby-Dick.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Why people want to be writers I will never know, unless it is that their lives lack a material footing.”

“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.”

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Shayla Lawson’s This Is Major is the perfect book for this moment.

The book’s a series of essays about Lawson’s experience as a Black woman in America. She takes you from growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Lexington, Ken., to living in Portland, Ore., and beyond.

Cover of Shayla Lawson's This Is Major.

This Is Major (paid link) comes out as our country’s having another conversation about race. It’s a worthy discussion from which there has to be action.

We can’t keep putting up yard signs and going about our business. We have to change how the United States of America treats people of color.

We must implement governmental and societal changes to reduce, if not eliminate the impacts of systemic racism. Here’s an example of what our racist nation’s wrought on people of color.

According to the Federal Reserve, 28 percent of white Americans inherited money in 2016. Just eight percent of Black Americans and five percent of Hispanics received an inheritance. That’s disgusting and wrong.

In This Is Major, Lawson focuses mostly on racism in American life, the Black Girl Magic movement, and Diana Ross. Again, it’s the perfect book for our current moment.

Get your copy of This Is Major (paid link). Then let me know what you think!

P.S. Soon, I’ll interview Shayla on Bidwell Hollow.


Disclosure: I support local bookstores. As a Bookshop affiliate, I and independent bookshops earn money anytime you purchase after clicking a paid link. Thank you!

If you’re a writer, you get a lot of advice about how to improve your writing. One piece of guidance writers receive is to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader, the thinking goes. 

And I agree. How can you be a word peddler if you’re not a word consumer? But what’s often not talked about is what a writer reads. 

The words writers take in mean as much as the words a writer puts down. That’s because to be our best writing self requires seeing the world outside of ourselves. A common thread among the best writers is they know something other than their own lives. 

Exposure and understanding help shape great writers. That’s why we need to be intentional with our reading. Below is a lesson I learned, and how it can help you, too.

Mix up the books

A few years ago, I listed all the books I read that year. Seventy-five percent of what I read was about World War II and written by white men. I was shocked. 

Do you know the writers whose work I had never read? The list included names such as Toni Morrison, Willa Cather, Joan Didion, James Baldwin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. These are writers who excelled at their craft, and I was not consuming their words. Not to mention, I wanted to write fiction. And yet, the only books I read were nonfiction. 

Nicholas E. Barron quote: "Branching out beyond your comfort zone can help you discover new voices and improve your writing."

We all make choices, either consciously or unconsciously, in what we read. Maybe your bias is in the genre. You like mysteries, and so all you read are mystery novels. 

Or, your bias could be in authors. I didn’t intend to read only books by white guys. It just happens that a lot of books about World War II are by white men. Look at a list of the past dozen or so authors you’ve read. Are they all one gender, race, ethnicity, and so forth? 

We can also be partial in where our books’ settings. Shortly after discovering my predilection for World War II books, I realized I rarely read something set in Africa. Now I rotate into my reading pile books taking place in Africa.

There are many ways we pick the books we read. And we may have the best of intentions in our choices. But branching out beyond your comfort zone can help you discover new voices and improve your writing.

improve your writing by reading diversely

Reading Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room shook me. Discovering Willa Cather changed my understanding of what stories a writer can tell. Consuming Toni Morrison’s work is like crawling into the lap of a master.

Becoming more intentional in my reading has enhanced my writing. I’m a better writer now than when I was reading World War II books. And I understand and appreciate more who a writer can be and what stories they can tell. 

You can have the same experience. Look at the books you’ve recently read. Are there commonalities among them? The authors may be similar, or the books are in the same genre. See if there are ways you can expand what you read.

And, once you do, reevaluate after some time. Two years after I broadened what I read, I realized something. I hadn’t read a book published within that time. Everything I read was older than two years. So, I adjusted. Now I work new books into my reading.

Writers should read, yes, but the words we consume matter. Being intentional about your reading will improve your writing. So, reach beyond your typical reads to discover new authors and worlds. And watch yourself grow as a writer.


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This article originally appeared on Medium.