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The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art [Paperback]

Joyce Carol Oates

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The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art + Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within (Social Science) + Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st Ecco Paperback Ed edition (21 Jan 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060565543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060565541
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 14 x 1.2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 638,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including 'We Were the Mulvaneys', which was an Oprah Book Club Choice, and 'Blonde', which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.

Product Description


The author of I'll Take You There and The Tattooed Girl offers insight into the creative process, sharing the life lessons she has learned throughout her career about language, the inspiration of ideas, and the contributions of life experiences to writing. Reprint. 20,000 first printing.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
As a child I took for granted what seems wonderful to me now: that, from first through fifth grades, during the years 1943-1948, I attended the same single-room schoolhouse in western New York that my mother, Carolina Bush, had attended twenty years before. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Muse is Caught Briefly by Oates. 28 Jan 2005
By Bohdan Kot - Published on
Joyce Carol Oates is a prodigious talent, both in volume and quality. One is in awe of the numerous titles from various genres - novel, poetry, play, essay and novella - for which she has published and received critical acclaim within the past forty years. Who is more qualified than Oates to assemble "The Faith of a Writer," a collection of essays written over a large span of years (many published earlier) that explore the craft of writing? Oates says the collection is "meant to be undogmatic, provisional."

This is not a how-to write book, but rather, a personal take how Oates and other writers like Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and several other notables approach the craft of writing. The most interesting essay, "Notes on Failure," examines the helpful role failure can play when striving for memorable writing. Oates discusses James Joyce's difficulty in getting his first novel published before he wrote the classic "Ulysses." In response to the repeated rejections, "Joyce retreated, and allowed himself ten years to write a masterpiece."

Oates also ponders topics such as inspiration, her early childhood influences, reading as a writer, and self-criticism. Her tone throughout each short essay is crisp and direct, often compelling and endearing, like a schoolteacher who always demands the best. Oates stresses that writing when done well, like any other artistic endeavor, is a craft. She believes, "inspiration and energy and even genius are rarely enough to make `art': for prose fiction is also a craft, and craft must be learned."

Oates' slender volume is a beautiful rumination and worthy addition to her large catalog of work. She manages to pin down and examine the elusive nature of the muse.

Bohdan Kot
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Master Speaks 12 Oct 2003
By MICHAEL ACUNA - Published on
Since I have read so many of JC Oates' works over the years, it was with a little trepidation that I approached "The Faith of a Writer." Reading a lot of any writer's works gives you the feeling that you know the author as well as any member of your family or your circle of best friends. So, reading something directly from Oates about her inspirations, her craft and how she goes about actually producing her works was a bit scary for me. It's like meeting a favorite movie star in a one-on-one situation: what if she isn't as smart, as witty, as nice, as perceptive, as devilish as he appears on screen...or in Oates' case, on the written page.
But like listening to a good friend relate stories of her life and how she goes about her craft, Oates enlightens rather than frightens: she adds additional insight to her works of fiction rather than tear down my perceptions of them.
Oates on writers: (they have)..."an affinity for risk, danger, mystery, a certain derangement of the soul; a craving for distress, the predilection for insomnia." And as an extension Oates states these are the people who create "the highest form of the human spirit, Art."
Going against the common notion that we should write what we know (and Oates's works certainly support this contention): "The artist can inhabit any individual for the individual is irrelevant to art."
Like most great artists, Oates writes because she can't help it, it's in her blood and anyone who has read any of her works would have to agree that there are drops of blood as well as sweat on each page of her work.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Memoir 19 Jan 2005
By Sprix - Published on
This is a lovely piece, not meant to be a guide on how to write, which I think the negative reviewers are in need of, but rather it is a brief glimpse at her creative process. She is in love with the written word, and this book is no less eloquent than any of the novels or short stories she has written.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Inspirational 14 Oct 2006
By Cory Fosco - Published on
This review was written as an assignment for a graduate school course in the creative writing program at Northwestern University:

"The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art" by Joyce Carol Oates

Publisher: Ecco

Number of Pages: 176

Year Published: September 23, 2003

Price: Paperback version is $11.95; hardcover version is $21.95 (Paperback is widely available and discounted at; Hardcover version is available through, but via other sellers (used); also available at the Northwestern University Library).

Ideal Audience: This book would be useful in many classroom settings. The youngest audience would probably be high school level junior and senior "Introduction to Creative Writing" students. If used in an undergraduate or graduate level creative writing setting, the essays would be best utilized as both inspiration and models for future individual writing. This would also be very helpful in a "Continuing Education" program, possibly associated with a local community center, library or community college.

Brief Summary: This book contains 12 essays and a brief interview with Oates (led by Greg Johnson). The essays explore Oates' inspirations and motivations for becoming a writer. She offers specific advice to young writers ("write your heart out" and to read as often as they can. Oates touches on her first memories as a child and how the book, "Alice in Wonderland," had a profound affect on her life. She also examines her passion for running and illustrates how running feeds her mind and allows her to be very creative. Other essays discuss failure, inspiration (of other writers), how to read as a writer, the process of self-criticism, and a glimpse of Oates' writing studio. The interview was conducted shortly after Oates published her longest novel (752 pages) in 2000, "Blonde."

Representative Section/Excerpt:

(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... What advice can an older writer presume to offer 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.

(From "First Loves: From "Jabberwocky" to "After Apple Picking"):

There are two primary influences in a writer's life: those influences that come so early in childhood, they seem to soak into the very marrow of our bones and to condition our interpretation of the universe thereafter; and those that come a little later, when we are old enough to exercise some control of our environment, and our response to it, and have begun to be aware not only of the emotional power but the strategies of art.

Strength: This book is very inspirational and filled with models that can be used a "jumping off" points for writers in their own work. It can be a great tool to use in a classroom setting if a teacher prefers not to use writing triggers or prompts to engage the class in an exercise.

Weakness: A big weakness of this book is Oates' inability to dig deeper and reveal her main inspirations for writing. Although there are sections within the material that Oates' opens up and offers a glimpse of herself, overall, the book is about other people and their techniques/inspirations, etc.

Urgency Rating: Moderate; if you plan on teaching any genre of writing it can be useful in many ways, especially as models (versus triggers or prompts). The most useful parts were the following essays: "My Faith as a Writer," because it made me think about my own "faith" as a writer and think about my earliest memories of the importance of writing in my life; "To a Young Writer," because it is very inspirational/motivational--great advice from an accomplished writer; and "Reading as a Writer: The Artist as Craftsman," because it offers great advice about the craft of reading to expand knowledge in our own writing versus reading for enjoyment.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Mind of a Genius Writer 29 Jan 2007
By Marion - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This amazing, awesome little book was totally NOT what I was expecting. Like a previous writer said, it was more of a memoir, but a memoir of her writing history, her early inspiration (Edgar Allen Poe/Lewis Carroll) and her early schooling.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I discovered she read and has been influenced Poe. I won't give away why he left such an impression on her at such an early age (eight!), but suffice it to say, it was enlightening and made me think about the books that formed my early thinking. (Besides the comic books I loved!)

If you're a fan/reader of Oates or a writer or wannabe writer, then you will definitely be encouraged and challenged by this tiny tome. It's an unexpected treasure that I highly recommend.
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