I finally read Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. Lucky for me it lived up to its hype as a must-read for writers. Not only does Anne give great advice, she motivates and inspires you to put the book down and get busy writing. I kept finding myself torn between reading the next chapter and opening my computer to get another 300 words out. Most of all, I loved Anne’s witty sense of humor and frankness in the way she expresses herself.
Here are 3 things that I learned (there are many more, but 3 is a good number for list-making):
1. Writing takes time.
A few months ago I felt stuck in my story. It’s far from where I want it, and I didn’t know where to start in the re-writing process. In one of her chapters, Anne mentioned spending “two solid years” on her second book and it still wasn’t going in the direction she wanted (nor did her editor). It took her 3+ years to finish it. I was frustrated because my story wasn’t moving forward, and I’d only been staring at it 6 months (another writer I admire posted a blog post about putting a project down for 6 months before beginning to re-write). Often my expectations are a little high- especially for myself. Seeing how much time another writer devotes to writing puts things into perspective for me and helps me relax a little. Being a novice writer, I can’t expect to finish a book overnight- no matter how much I want to.
2. Write bad first drafts.
(Okay, so she really uses the word sh@#tty, which is a much more accurate description for a first draft, but I couldn’t bring myself to put it as the title.) I loved this chapter most because it’s what I need right now. The perfectionist in me keeps me paralyzed, and hearing other “professional” writers talk about how bad their first drafts are, the better I feel. Being a good writer isn’t based on how good my first draft is. Thank you Lord!
3. Getting published doesn’t make you a writer.
Lately I’ve felt paranoid about calling myself a writer. Being a wife and mom, well that’s not something anyone can argue, it’s my position. But writer? Now that’s different, that’s measurable. A writer writes. Plain and simple. If publication comes from it then great, but a publisher can’t publish what isn’t written. I would rather spend my time writing than worrying about being validated first.
Have you read Bird by Bird? What would you add?