Bird by Bird

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.

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