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The Faith of A Writer: Life, Craft, Art

The Faith of A Writer   

Author: Joyce Carol Oates
 Ecco Press
Year: 2003
Length: 158 pages
Preview: HarperCollins

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Publisher's Blurb

A tribute to the brilliant craftsmanship of one of our most distinguished writers, providing valuable insight into her inspiration and her method.

Joyce Carol Oates is widely regarded as one of America's greatest contemporary literary figures. Having written in a number of genres—prose, poetry, personal and critical essays, as well as plays—she is an artist ideally suited to answer essential questions about what makes a story striking, a novel come alive, a writer an artist as well as a craftsman.

In The Faith of a Writer, Oates discusses the subjects most important to the narrative craft, touching on topics such as inspiration, memory, self-criticism, and "the unique power of the unconscious." On a more personal note, she speaks of childhood inspirations, offers advice to young writers, and discusses the wildly varying states of mind of a writer at work. Oates also pays homage to those she calls her "significant predecessors" and discusses the importance of reading in the life of a writer.

Oates claims, "Inspiration and energy and even genius are rarely enough to make 'art': for prose fiction is also a craft, and craft must be learned, whether by accident or design." In fourteen succinct chapters, The Faith of a Writer provides valuable lessons on how language, ideas, and experience are assembled to create art.



  • Introduction
  • My Faith as a Writer
  • District School #7, Niagara County, New York
  • First Loves: From "Jabberwocky" to "After Apple Picking"
  • To a Young Writer

  • Running and Writing
  • "What Sin to Me Unknown . . ."
  • Notes on Failure
  • Inspiration!
  • Reading as a Writer: The Artist as Craftsman

  • The Enigmatic Art of Self-Criticism
  • The Writer's Studio
  • Blonde Ambition: An Interview with Joyce Carol Oates, by Greg Johnson
  • "JCO" and I (After Borges)
  • Acknowledgments


From "To a Young Writer"

Write your heart out.

Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject.

Your "forbidden" passions are likely to be the fuel for your writing. Like our great American dramatist Eugene O'Neill raging through his life against a long-deceased father; like our great American prose stylist Ernest Hemingway raging through his life against his mother; like Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton struggling through their lives with the seductive Angel of Death, tempting them to the ecstasy of self-murder. The instinct for violent self-laceration in Dostoyevsky, and for the sadistic punishment of "disbelievers" in Flannery O'Connor. The fear of going mad in Edgar Allan Poe and committing an irrevocable, unspeakable act—murdering an elder or a wife, hanging and putting out the eyes of one's "beloved" pet cat. Your struggle with your buried self, or selves, yields your art; these emotions are the fuel that drives your writing and makes possible hours, days, weeks, months and years of what will appear to others, at a distance, as "work." Without these ill-understood drives you might be a superficially happier person, and a more involved citizen of your community, but it isn't likely that you will create anything of substance.

What advice can an older writer presume to offer to a younger? Only what he or she might wish to have been told years ago. Don't be discouraged! Don't cast sidelong glances, and compare yourself to others among your peers! (Writing is not a race. No one really "wins." The satisfaction is in the effort, and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any.) And again, write your heart out.



  • Buffalo News, September 7, 2003, p. H4
  • Library Journal, October 1, 2003, p. 75
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 2, 2003, p. J11
  • Columbus Dispatch, November 16, 2003, p. F7
  • Boston Globe, November 23, 2003, p. D7
  • New York Times Book Review, December 21, 2003, p. 20
  • Boston Herald, January 11, 2004, Sec: The Edge, p. 45