A shelf of writing books

Once again, let’s take a look at one of the multitudes of writing books I have read through the years. I have plenty, so these Friday peeks at my book shelves should last a while

Today’s book is probably the third writing book I have purchased. And I have purchased it numerous times after giving it away to friends and students.  It is a book that has been read and reviewed probably thousands of times, but hey, there is a reason for that. It’s that good.

Anne Lamott teaches more than writing in Bird by Bird. It is frequently quoted and you can find all the good ones simply by Googling “Anne Lamott writing quotes.” And I could quote them all here, to take up space and get to my 500 word blog post quota, but nah. I think I would rather write about what I learned. (Except the quote about if your family wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have treated you better. I like that one.)

Don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s writing, not Writing. There is a reason Writer is only capitalized in titles. Just get over yourself.  If anyone had the right to think writerly accolades should be flung at her feet, it should be Anne, daughter of a writer who had her daddy’s agent reading her short stories early on. But no, Anne was mortal and had to actually do the work, just like the rest of us. And work she did, which is why she is so dang popular. 

The point of the book, once you get through her writer-life story and how her writing students get pissed because she tells them writing is more important than getting published, is that she writes about how she did the work and how we, the readers can as well.

Short Assignments

When the scope of the work is so big, so overwhelming that you would rather just leave the blank page and go on your merry way, Anne suggests Short Assignments. Write what you would see in a one-inch picture frame.  Like today, only worry about the scene where the protagonist meets the boy. Or just describe the setting. Eventually, you will get moving and the words turn from a trickle to a flow. Maybe, or maybe you just get the picture frame done and you move on. 

Shitty First Drafts

I think we are taught in middle school writing classes that if we outline, we can just write the essay (or whatever) once, then proof read for spelling and grammatical errors, and then poof, done. When actually, writing is rewriting, sometimes over and over, getting the story (hopefully) truer and truer with each pass. So to be able to rewrite, there has to be something written, hence the shifty first draft. Just get something down, and then you will have something to revise. A first draft can have things like (he has to get rid of the infestation, but what is it?) as you go along, letting the story flow as much as it can. Stephen King calls it the Down Draft (just get it down.)

Perfectionism is the oppressor; it is the enemy of the people. 

This is the biggest thing between me and a first draft. The silly voice that sits in the back of my head that say what is this garbage that is coming out? What makes you think you can be a writer? You can’t even spell! That internal editor won’t give me a chance sometimes to even get the shitty first draft. I like to think of that internal editor is a middle school English teacher, trying to make sure that if I am writing, I am doing it efficiently. Revising is not efficient, but it is effective. And that is the goal. Not sure effective is the right word, but as my blog posts are typically first drafts with some proof reading, (Yeah, I know), I’m going to let it sit here. 

Bird by Bird is a book that I try to read through every couple of years, just to remember to not take myself too seriously, to relax and have fun.