A Book Review: The Writing Life ed. by Marie Arana

A writer’s mind is divided.

On the one side, you have the pragmatic craftsman that was shown in last week’s book review How To Be A Writer.

On the other side, you have the introspectives.

Writing is a practical skill, yes, but it is also a deeply personal one. It’s a desire to investigate life, to challenge it, or to showcase it through your own words.

The Writing Life seeks to accommodate this, showing the inner workings of award winning authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Julian Barnes and Muriel Spark.

Does it succeed in doing this? Honestly, I’m not so sure.


Published by Public Affairs Books

Featuring more than fifty authors, The Writing Life desires to inspire its readers with tales of success, failure, love and loss, within the writing industry.

Culled from ten years of the Washington Post column of the same name, The Writing Life highlights the stories of those who chose to pursue their first creative inclinations into the writing world – and who haven’t looked back since.


This book frustrates me.

All of the interviewees, as well as the editor Marie Arana, are experienced in their careers. They know the mountain that is ‘the writing life’ like it was sitting in their own backyard.

From the childhood experiences of Joyce Carol Oates, to the necessity of sensory experience by Patricia Cornwell,  I know I should be lapping up their insights into the industry with vigour – I should be inspired, motivated and driven by their thoughts.

So why then does reading this book make me feel so bored?


The answer, I think, lies in balance.

Reflection is necessary for writers – but when writer after writer talks about an individuals career, and the lessons they’ve learned, and their inner experiences, you begin to lose touch with the other crucial half of writing: the writing.

While one or two may delve into their practical writing techniques, many of the segments chosen in this anthology are so dense that I found it hard to sit down and read this book beginning to end.

Which doesn’t surprise me.

These were, after all, once columns in the newspaper. Snippets of the writing life to ponder, not a volume of authorial thoughts to be waded through.

And as such, while I can commend the individual columns within its pages, I would only really recommend this book to the more academically inclined writers.

1 Comment

  1. Great review! I can see why it made you bored though. I guess once you’d heard from one writer, you’d heard from them all and it seems it kinda went off on what the subject matter actually is: writing.


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