On Writing Well

The majority of my blog posts are not incredibly well written. I don’t put too much effort into them beyond the content and I typically don’t bother to do any proof reading—much to the chagrin of a number of my readers.

But I do value writing well and I put significant effort into papers and articles.

Anyway, here is easily my favorite quote about writing from Annie Dillard, probably one of the greatest writers alive today.

It takes years to write a book—between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant. One American writer has written a dozen major books over six decades. He wrote one of those books, a perfect novel, in three months. He speaks of it, still, with awe, almost whispering. Who wants to offend the spirit that hands out such books?

Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks; he claimed he knocked it off in his spare time from a twelve-hour-a-day job performing manual labor. There are other examples from other continents and centuries, just as albinos, assassins, saints, big people, and little people show up from time to time in large populations. Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a serious book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in barrels, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in child birth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.

—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, 13-14.

9 thoughts on “On Writing Well

  1. It’s a fine citation. It reminds me of Horace’s admonition to young poets (Ars Poetica 385-390): You’re not going to write or do anything without inspiration … but if you do write something someday, submit it to some good critical minds, then lock it in your desk drawer for nine years unopened; you can always destroy what you haven’t published, but there’s no recovery of an utterance once made public. [nescit vox missa reverti].

  2. Writing is such hard work, especially for someone who is a perfectionist who isn’t confident in his writing. I’d like to learn more about how to write better, mainly for book reviews, but it’s all I can handle to do Bible study and try to learn Greek. I can imagine the good writers reading my stuff and noticing the misuse of the language.

    1. I can imagine the good writers reading my stuff and noticing the misuse of the language.

      Good writing isn’t about “following the rules” so much as communicating well. That kind of writing simply require practice. The more we write the better we get.

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