Monday, June 21, 2010

Writers Writing About Writing Smack Down: Annie Vs. Anne

The stage for this smack down was set by various contributors to A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art. Harold Fickett, in his reflection, recommends Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life as further reading, noting that it is “jam-packed with helpful and wonderful anecdotes, particularly about the craziness of getting started.” In her reflection, Emilie Griffin also recommends The Writing Life, stating that it “has strong overtones of faith.” On the other hand, in her reflection, Luci Shaw recommends as further reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, opining “no other writer has written so whimsically . . . , showing how the daily word-by-word practice of writing can add up to a story, or a book.”

Taking these recommendations to heart, I purchased both books in the hope that reading Dillard and Lamott might help me become a better writer. Not having read either author before, I first turned to The Writing Life by Annie Dillard because she wrote it in 1989, five years before Lamott wrote Bird by Bird in 1994. I like to read authors and related books chronologically, thus Dillard before Lamott.

If this writers writing about writing smack down can be decided by the amount of my highlighting in each book, then with seventeen passages highlighted in Dillard’s 111 manuscript compared to the more than six dozen words, phrases and passages I highlighted in Lamott’s 238 page document, then Bird by Bird is the clear champion.

I found Dillard’s The Writing Life a hodgepodge of pithy advice that read like it had been culled from Dillard’s own reading rather than her experience. Lamott, on the other hand, engaged me with what read like personal recollections from life and a life of writing, recollections filled with engaging and entertaining metaphors, words, phrases and a healthy dose of respectful irreverence. I laughed more reading Lamott than I did reading Dillard and the former gave me more ideas for future writing projects than the former.

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