I joined a blogger book club a few weeks ago, called Write or Die. Back in April, the group decided to read Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Knowing nothing about the book, I purchased a used copy from the Goodwill and cracked it open, looking forward to reading a book I knew nothing about.
What I got was a book about writing and life, by a woman with the exact same sense of humor as myself. It’s nice to meet yourself in a book. I read a few of my journal entries from this year last night, and my writing style and her writing style are very similar. Slightly sarcastic and cheery, yet sometimes telling a lot in a few simple words.
And the book is about more than just writing, it’s about getting out of your own way, and letting the craft be the craft. She talks about how she prays before she starts writing, which is something you just don’t really hear about in books on writing. At least none that I’ve ever read.
She says, “Please help me get out of the way, so I can write what wants to be written.”
And I just love that. It’s so true. Robert Holden says when he’s trying to write a book, and his ego starts acting up, going haywire about how bad his work is, and how no one will want to read it, he reminds himself that egos have never been published, so how in the hell would they know what readers will enjoy?
What I love most is how understandable Lamott makes everything in her book. She talks about how intuition should guide the writer, and that the best way to find your intuition is to pick up a piece of broccoli. (I know, right?) She says no one tells you how to eat broccoli, you just pick it up, and let your intuition tell you how to eat it. And that’s how you find it.
She says you just have to start writing, and get your flow going, because no one sits down at a desk and pumps out a beautiful masterpiece in one go without revision. Not even the greatest authors in the world do that. Everyone starts out with the same blank page you do. And probably the same blank stares.
And that’s exactly how I feel. I can’t tell you how much shitty writing comes out of me before something small and golden emerges. Sometimes when I have to write an article on a topic I’m not familiar with, I just go, go, go. Because nothing’s going to get written by just sitting there. I’ll hear my ego come forward as the voice of Ygritte from Game of Thrones, telling me you know nothin’ about raising kids, Monique Muro. Everyone is going to read this article and know that it was written by someone who doesn’t have kids, and you’ll lose all credibility in your writing.
Lamott suggests we see these voices as skittish little mice, and put them in a jar with a tight lid. She says to keep the jars around you just in case, and let the mice jump around in there in silence while you get to work. I rather like this idea. Because the mice are the voices of the ego, and the voice of ‘perfection’.
I published a guest post about perfection a few days ago, and it’s really the worst thing that can happen to a person. Whatever I put out there will no doubt need editing or tweaking, and so I’ll just edit it to the standards that the editor wants and just take a breath. It’s not the end of my writing career and no one will have been harmed during the making of the article.
My favorite thing about Bird By Bird though, is how much I want to write after reading a few pages of it each day. It’s a book that compels you to write your guts out. And all this time when I thought I had nothing to say, she’s there reminding me that ‘if you survived childhood, you have something to write about.’
That’s probably my favorite line ever, and something to remember when I think I don’t know anything or don’t have any good stories to tell. Although now it’s turning into more of a ‘if you survived you’re twenties, you have something to write about.’ But I’m sure you could say that about any decade of your life.
I’ll admit, I’m still 100 or so pages away from being done with Bird by Bird, but it’s already the best book I’ve ever read on writing. Lamott doesn’t just talk about writing like it’s something to be learned in a class, she talks about it as an art, as a lifestyle, as a sort of madness. An understandable one. And some of the things she says are so damn spiritual, it makes me wonder what kind of book I’m actually reading. She touches on paranoia in a way that almost feels like home to me.
“You can be defeated and disoriented by all these feelings, or you can see the paranoia as wonderful material. You can use it as the raw clay that you pull out of the river…”
That passage really spoke to me. I pictured raw, cold clay, and I pictured pulling it out of a river and feeling it, as though it was the very substance of our crazy beautiful minds.
I just feel like I’ve met my kindred spirit in the writing world. She also talks about how being published isn’t the end-all be-all–the writing is the end-all be-all.
“There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it, and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things; you’ll never get in that way.”
And I just never thought about it like that. I love it when I read things that make me think about things in a whole new light. And ever since I picked up this book, all I want to do is write, to get back into fiction, to tell the stories that need telling, and the stories that I know I can tell.
What books are you reading lately? Any that inspire this same kind of madness?