So, I’ve been writing. I haven’t been talking about it much because, in the past, talking about it has led to not doing it. As I started to write I realized a very important thing – I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve been writing non-fiction for a long time, but this fiction thing is totally different. And while I was doing lots of the right things in terms of getting words on paper, I wasn’t clear that what I was writing down was worth keeping.
To fix this problem I bought a book. That should surprise no one. I read the first chapter of this writing book and it was very interesting. However, at the end of this first chapter were a large number of exercises. Looking at the exercises I knew that they were time consuming and there were a lot of them. In reality, if I went the direction of the book I would have to stop writing and focus on exercises. And this was just the first chapter. A wiser woman might have put down the writing badly to work on learning how to write well. I am not that woman. Instead, I figured since inspiration seems to strike me so rarely and since I was feeling fairly driven by this piece of writing, I would put down the book and perhaps read it after I finished writing. Highly counterintuitive.
So I wrote away for a few more months, still thinking this was likely a fool’s errand as this was clearly not of a publishable quality.
Then, one day I went into my departmental office to pick up some printing. When I turned over the stack of printing, I was hit with the following title across the top of the page:
“Shitty First Drafts”
Now, there’s no way you can not peek at what’s on a page with that kind of title. And then I saw that the article was by Anne Lamott, who I know is a favorite of many of my friends. So, yes, I stood by the copier and read the whole article, which it turned out was actually a chapter from her book Bird by Bird.
By the time I finished that chapter I was almost crying from relief. What I had been doing for months wasn’t a huge waste. Getting things down on paper that would impress no set of awards committees was completely normal. This was how it was supposed to feel.
I immediately went on Amazon and ordered a copy of Bird by Bird. I waited impatiently for it to arrive in my mailbox and devoured it.
Yes, I know the book was exactly right for where I am right now, but I really believe that this is a wonderful book for anyone. True, it is about writing, but her honesty about life and the quality of the writing are disarming. The chapter I found most useful wasn’t even about writing – it was about quieting the radio in your head.
Bird by Bird encouraged me as a writer. It gave some good advice and insight into another writer’s process. It shared bits of life and it provided valuable perspective. I know this is a book I’ll go back to again and again and recommend again and again.
I have no idea if my writing will ever see the light of day, but between this book and Rob Bell’s Drops Like Stars, I can see the value in continuing to write and I hope my second and third drafts will produce something full of truth, love and interest.