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.
So 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.