Taking it ‘bird by bird’ – instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott

If you are writer then you have suffered from all kinds of horrid thoughts: the biggest of these are likely linked back to lack of confidence and self-doubt of ones own abilities, jealousy (even if we try and deny and surpress it) of friends and writers doing better than us, and telling ourselves we will never be good enough to cut it. Reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is like being welcomed home; come right on in with those self-depreciating feelings, that dreadful first draft, and bring those gigantic elephants named jealousy and hatred of ones writing, they are all welcome here. Anne, is a kindred spirit. She has been through it all and lived to tell the tale, in the most raw, honest and hilarious manner.

Some of Anne’s wisdom that I particularly enjoyed (but of course, go buy the book for goodness sake, or it get it out at the library, your creative soul needs this):

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again.”

“Isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want–won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.”

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

“You write a shitty first draft of it and you sound it out, and you leave in those lines that ring true and take out the rest. I wish there was an easier, softer way, a shortcut, but this is the nature of most good writing: that you find out things as you go along. Then you go back and rewrite. Remember: no one is reading your first drafts.”

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts.”

“We write to expose the unexposed. If there is one door in the castle you have been told not to go through, you must. The writer’s job is to turn the unspeakable into words – not just into any words, but if we can, into rhythm and blues.”

“To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, as my friend Dale puts it, How alive am I willing to be?”

Her book is refreshingly honest.

Go read it.

 

S.

 

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