Why We Write- A Glowing Review

I'm always looking for inspiration and motivation when it comes to writing, so I decided that I'd finally give this book a read after having it on my shelf for quite awhile. The format is conducive to baby-wrangling; each of the twenty authors are given just a few pages and those are divided into even smaller sections. It's a book packed with a lot of gems in small snippets. Perfect for current my up-and-down lifestyle.

The author editor Meredith Maran coaxed into participating (a portion of the proceeds go to the charity 826 National)  are a fascinating, diverse crew that includes greats like Ann Patchett, Meg Wolitzer, Isabel Allende, Gish Jen, and Michael Lewis. Each talked tried to answer the question, "why do you write" and also gave background story on their writing career, highlighting moments such as when they "made it," rejection, and their process. There were a lot of differences in approaches, paths to success, and outlooks, but the biggest two things they had in common were telling readers to write often and read constantly. 

I tabbed a ton of quotes and ideas to remember, which is unusual for me. I'll spare you a huge list, but here are a few that really stood out:

Isabel Allende advises writers to "be very careful with dialogue" and that "colloquialisms change and become dated" (8).

David Baldacci acknowledges his status as a commercial writer, saying, "People who write literary fiction are more disciplined. They spend years and years and years and years of their lives on one project. They bring to bear everything they have on that one story" (17).

Jennifer Egan speaks about her process, saying that when her writing is going well she "is living in two different dimensions; this life [she's] living now, which [she] enjoy very much, and this completely other world [she's] inhabiting that no one else knows about... it's a double like [she] gets to live without destroying [her] marriage" (28). She also advises people to "read at the level at which you want to write" (35). I love this and think it works for my students, too.

Sara Gruen advises female writers against being labeled a "chick lit" author, cautioning that "if you're a woman and you write novels with female characters, the industry tends to pigeonhole you, and if you're not careful you get slapped with a pink cover no man would be caught reading on the subway" (67).

Rick Moody also tackles genre, saying that "genre is a bookstore problem, not a literary problem. It helps people know what section to browse, but I don't care about that stuff" (151).

Ann Patchett made me smile when describing her lifestyle. She thinks that her readers may be a little surprised to hear that she's a "housewife in Nashville" and "has a dull life" (187). She is a self-proclaimed homebody that is a "dream wife" because she makes a ton of money but still cooks dinner (187).

Jane Smiley recounts a time when she was writing her Pulitzer Prize winner A Thousand Acres and was feeling very tired all the time. She remembered "it turned out the chimney of the furnace was leaking carbon monoxide. When we stopped using the furnace, the novel stopped putting me to sleep. The lesson there is, sometimes it's not as bad as you think" (212).

Definitely a great read for readers and writers. 


  1. I think I need to read this just for Ann Patchett :)

  2. I love the idea of "living at the level you want to write" but then I think about what I read and now I'm scared

  3. Well, this is definitely going on my to-read list. Thanks for the recommendation!