Annie Dillard Writing Quotes

Annie Dillard won the Pulitzer Prize at 29 years. This incredible feat is a testament to the quality of her writing. In this article, we shall examine some of her best writing advice, mainly drawn from her book, The Writing Life. It is worth reading if you want to know what it takes to be a successful writer.

Annie’s quotes touch on the various aspects of the life of a writer including:

  • How to get writing ideas
  • How to decide what to write about
  • How to write well

If you want to learn more about Annie Dillard, check out her quick biography.

Quotes on Having a Passion for Writing

1. Caring passionately about something isn’t against nature, and it isn’t against human nature. It’s what we’re here to do. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

2. What impels the writer is a deep love for and respect for language, for literary forms, for books. It’s a privilege to muck about in sentences all morning. It’s a challenge to bring off a powerful effect or to tell the truth about something. You don’t do it from willpower; you do it from an abiding passion for the field. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

3. I simply like to write books. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

4. A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?” “Well,” the writer said, “I don’t know…Do you like sentences?” The writer could see the student’s amazement. Sentences?… If he had liked sentences, of course, he could have begun, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, “I liked the smell of the paint.” – The Writing Life (1989)

Quotes on the Writing Life

5. It should surprise no one that the life of the writer-such as it is – is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world. This explains why so many books describe the author’s childhood. A writer’s childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience. – The Writing Life (1989)

6. 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. – The Writing Life (1989)

7. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s? – The Writing Life (1989)

8. There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. – The Writing Life (1989)

9. Your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever. You are free to make several thousand close judgment calls a day. Your freedom is a by-product of your days’ triviality. – The Writing Life (1989)

10. Your manuscript, on which you lavish such care, has no needs or wishes; it knows you not. Nor does anyone need your manuscript; everyone needs shoes more. There are many manuscripts already -worthy ones, most edifying and moving ones, intelligent and powerful ones. – The Writing Life (1989)

Quotes on Why You Should Write

11. Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence. It is life at its most free…It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to be able to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself. – The Writing Life (1989)

12. 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. – The Writing Life (1989)

13. I’ve learned a lot by writing this book, not only about writing but about American history. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

Quotes on Deciding What to Write About

14. People love pretty much the same things best. A writer, though, looking for subjects asks not after what he loves best, but what he alone loves at all. – The Writing Life (1989)

15. 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. – The Writing Life (1989)

16. There is something you find interesting, for a reason 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 Writing Life (1989)

17. 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? – The Writing Life (1989)

18. Writing every book, the writer must solve two problems: Can it be done? and, Can I do it? Every book has an intrinsic impossibility that its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement fades. – The Writing Life (1989)

Quotes on How to Be Productive in Writing

19. There’s a common notion that self-discipline is a freakish peculiarity of writers -that writers differ from other people by possessing enormous and equal portions of talent and willpower. They grit their powerful teeth and go into their little rooms. I think that’s a bad misunderstanding of what impels the writer. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

20. Writing a book is like rearing children -willpower has very little to do with it. If you have a little baby crying in the middle of the night, and if you depend only on willpower to get you out of bed to feed the baby, that baby will starve. You do it out of love. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

21. 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. – The Writing Life (1989)

22. 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. – The Writing Life (1989)

23. 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. – The Writing Life (1989)

24. A pile of decent work behind him, no matter how small, fuels the writer’s hope, too; his pride emboldens and impels him. – The Writing Life (1989)

25. The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity. – The Writing Life (1989)

26. 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. These truths comfort the anguished. They do not mean, by any means, that faster-written books are worse books. They just mean that most writers might well stop berating themselves for writing at a normal, slow pace. – The Writing Life (1989)

27. Appealing workplaces are to be avoided. One wants a room with no view, so imagination can meet memory in the dark. – The Writing Life (1989)

Quotes on Reading

28. The writer studies literature, not the world…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. – The Writing Life (1989)

29. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading -that is a good life. – The Writing Life (1989)

30. Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? – The Writing Life (1989)

31. 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? – The Writing Life (1989)

Quotes on Writing Well

32. 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. – The Writing Life (1989)

33. 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 Writing Life (1989)

34. Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block. – The Writing Life (1989)

35. 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. – The Writing Life (1989)

Quotes on Getting Ideas for Writing

36. The creative process obtains in all creative acts. So if I’m painting suddenly I’ll see something that I didn’t see before. – NPR Interview, 2016

37. I write in my own journal when something extraordinary or funny happens. And there’s some nice imagery in there. I don’t think of what to do with it. – NPR Interview, 2016

38. 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. – The Writing Life (1989)

39. The sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you but only if you look for it. You search. You break your heart, your back, your brain and then and only then it is handed to you. – NPR Interview, 2016

Quotes on Writing Memoirs and Non-fiction

40. If you prize your memories as they are, by all means avoid…writing a memoir. Because it is a certain way to lose them. You can’t put together a memoir without cannibalizing your own life for parts.  – Inventing the Truth, 1998

41. Old memories are very easy to get except that once you write about something you’ve destroyed it. You no longer have the memory. You only have the memory of what you’ve written…It’s like people who take photographs during their whole vacation. They won’t remember their vacation. They’ll only remember what photographs they took. – NPR Interview, 2016

42. The writer of any work, and particularly any nonfiction work, must decide two crucial points: what to put in and what to leave out. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

43. I tried to leave out anything that might trouble my family. My parents are quite young. My sisters are watching this book carefully. Everybody I’m writing about is alive and well, in full possession of his faculties, and possibly willing to sue. Things were simpler when I wrote about muskrats. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

44. Writing in the first person can trap the writer into airing grievances. When I taught writing, I spent a lot of time trying to convince young writers that, while literature is an art, it’s not a martial art. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

45. The pages of a short story or a novel are no place to defend yourself from an attack, real or imagined, and no place from which to launch an attack, particularly an attack against the very people who painstakingly reared you to your present omniscience. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

46. I don’t believe in a writer’s kicking around people who don’t have access to a printing press. They can’t defend themselves. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

47. I only want to remind my writing colleagues that a great deal can be done in nonfiction, especially in first person accounts where the writer controls the materials absolutely. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

48. The range of rhythms in prose [non-fiction] is larger and grander than it is in poetry, and it can handle discursive ideas and plain information as well as character and story. It can do everything. I felt as though I had switched from a single reed instrument to a full orchestra. – Inventing the Truth, 1998

Further Reading

If you loved the quotes by Annie Dillard, check out the huge collection of writing quotes below. The collection features the best quotes by some of the most famous writers such as William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou and Ernest Hemingway among many more.

The quotes are full of valuable advice for any aspiring writer.

If you are struggling to create a business around your writing and need some encouragement, read the quotes below.

  • Sources Cited for Annie Dillard’s Quotes

Inventing the Truth (1998) Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir

NPR Interview (2016) Author Interview: Annie Dillard, Author of ‘The Abundance’

The Writing Life (1989) The Writing Life