One of the books that should be on most writers’ shelves—somewhere between their dictionary, thesaurus, and a compendium of trivia (you know, for when you get bored)—is Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Timber Creek. Spare and scrupulously honest, it’s one of those book-length essays that is so painstakingly constructed, it feels more like architecture than a book.

And that’s a compliment.

infact1So when Dillard gives writing advice, it’s best to listen. Here’s a few choice lines from her introduction to the compilation In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction:

Don’t describe feelings.

Capturing the typical isn’t a virtue. Only making something new and interesting is … Why would any reader pick up a book to read a detailed description of all that is most annoying in his daily life?

Don’t use any extra words. A sentence is a machine; it has a job to do.

The more you read, the more you will write.

These are clearly directed at writing students, but we can all take heed. Learning never ends.

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