Monday, October 21, 2019

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I'd heard about this book, glowingly, for years when I finally took the plunge and bought it – at nearly full price, no less! I even bought the audio because it was on sale.

Well. I found it brimming with wonderful advice, as well as lots of bits that didn't seem particularly necessary or interesting. In the final analysis, as I looked back over the 100 highlights I'd made, it holds so much useful and encouraging advice for anyone brash enough to put pen to paper that I think it was worth my time and money.

Anne Lamott clearly wields some highly tuned writing chops and is an experienced writing teacher. You'll find quotes here you'll want to highlight, refer to, maybe post on your desk for encouragement. There's more quality and value in just a few of her best pieces of advice than some books have throughout the entirety of their pages.

I think Lamott gave in to the curse of many a book of advice: too much of it is filler. She does this better than many of the worst offenders (which can be found in more than a few self-help books). The chapters that exude the air of filler still offer more substance and better writing than I've seen in some other advice books – but it's still filler. In some chapters I skimmed and skipped and wondered why I decided to buy and own this on the strength of glorious reviews alone, when I could've just gotten it from the library.

And yet ... I don't regret buying the ebook to keep, supporting this author with my cash, because the advice she gives that is helpful feels very helpful indeed. I'm sure I'll return to some of it many times for motivation or reassurance.

Here's a taste of some of the words of wisdom you'll find with Lamott's book:
“Do it every day for a while,” my father kept saying. “Do it as you would do scales on the piano. Do it by prearrangement with yourself. Do it as a debt of honor. And make a commitment to finishing things.”
E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.
Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper.
And finally:
Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.
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