Great Advice from Annie Dillard

I’ve been using the winter break to get my head in the “write place” as it were. Part of that has involved reading an insane amount of books.. check out of my twitter profile if you don’t believe me. One of the books I’ve devoured is In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction edited by Lee Gutkind. The introduction by Annie Dillard is actually made up entirely of practical advice for writers. At first, I was a little turned off by it, but days later I was still thinking about her tips. I’ve re-read the introduction twice now. It’s that good. Here are some highlights:

Never, ever, get yourself into a situation where you have nothing to do but write and read. You’ll go into a depression. You have to be doing something good for the world, something undeniably useful; you need exercise, too, and people.

Punctuation is not like musical notation; it doesn’t indicate the length of pauses, but instead signifies logical relations.

Always locate the reader in time and space — again and again. Beginning writers rush in to feelings, to interior lives. Instead, stick to surface appearances; hit the five senses; give the history of the person and the place, and the look of the person and the place.

If something in your narrative or poem is important, give it proportional space. I mean, actual inches. The reader has to spend time with a subject to care about it. Don’t shy away from your big scenes; stretch them out.

Write for readers. Ask yourself how every sentence and every line will strike the reader. That way you can see if you’re misleading, or boring, the readers. Of course, it’s hard to read your work when you’ve just written it; it all seems clear and powerful. Put it away and rewrite it later. Don’t keep reading it over, or you’ll have to wait longer to see it afresh.


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